The Land of Hope and Success
By Saladi Wa Maliko
“They took my home but they can’t take my future” is the only philosophical thought that gave me hope. This was when circumstances forced us to flee our land we called home. We were overwhelmed by the outbreak of civil war, where the superior Somali tribesmen declared war against the inferior tribes. We had to flee the country because we had no weapons to fight back. Many innocent people were killed so we had to seek refuge to a neighboring country known as Kenya.
Kenya’s government helped to renew hope in the hopeless refugees and we as refugees felt at home due to the warm welcome. Kenya’s government in partnership with UNHCR gave us shelter in a refugee camp called Kakuma.
Kakuma is located in Turkana county of the Northwestern region of Kenya. It is a home for all people forcibly displaced from their countries by war or persecution. The Turkana county is the second poorest region in Kenya due to its semi-desert nature. And it is the second largest camp in Kenya, Dadaab being the first. The hosts who are nomadic-pastoralists find it hard to interact with refugees but they tried as much as they could to make us feel at home.
We were provided with temporary houses made up of reinforced plastic canvas. The houses were used for a short time then replaced by semi-permanent houses made up of locally designed soil bricks. It gave us hard time to adapt to Kakuma’s harsh weather conditions, but we said to ourselves, “It is better to live in harsh condition than in endless agony in our motherland.”
Free education was right to all refugees both young and old. UNHCR in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation (LWFC) and Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) ensured that all the refugees get quality education. As a result we tried our best in academics and many refugees surprisingly became academic giants getting good marks as far as being sponsored to Canada for further studies.
Food was provided in cycles, twice a month, this was after every two weeks. The food was donated by many countries worldwide, USA being one of them. The food was given according to the number of members in each family. However the food was not sufficient to the refugees, hence the introduction of “Bamba Chakula” program.
“Bamba Chakula” is a food voucher working as a ‘Food Stamps”. Refugees are given the voucher to buy supplementary food which they may not be getting from food distribution centers. This helps the refugees to buy other food diets. The food voucher is refilled with cash after every food distribution cycle.
On the other hand, health facilities were available. In case of outbreak of diseases like Malaria, TB, Typhoid. Refugees were given medication for free. This gives hope to hundreds of refugees living in Kakuma camp. There were also medical assistance (MA) classes to qualified refugees who were trained and finally hired as health workers to help their fellow refugees.
The refugee youth also are not left idle. The LWF youth department organizes “Youth Festivals” for youth in Kakuma to showcase their skills and talents. Among the presentations were dancing, these included both traditional dancing and modern rhythmic dancing. Other presentations could be comedy, drama, oral narratives, solo verses, choral verses, fashion shows and many others. These help the refugee youth to feel secure and to learn from each others’ skills and talents.
FilmAid international organization also helps upcoming artists to sharpen their vocal talents. They opened a studio for refugee upcoming artists who go to record their songs freely. Generally refugee camps are mothers of many talented people in the universe. We may not be happy to be refugees but God knows the reason as to why He the Almighty sent us to refugee camp. There is more than what meets the eye.
Dream Comes True
Coming to Kentucky, Louisville to me was a nightmarish dream that came true. I was just like all the other refugees and asylees who have been thinking of getting a chance to be settled in a peaceful country to call home. This thought troubled my brain since my country was torn apart by civil wars. At Kentucky, I was warmly welcomed by the Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM). I felt secure on the first day of arrival.
However, the happy moods started fading when I started learning the strange way of life and the busy environment. Worries and stress started burning my inside like a wildfire burning dry grasses. I learnt it was too hard to make a friend to hang out with someone, since everyone is working on a busy schedule. So, I had to spend my days helplessly sleeping at home. I felt like an uprooted tree which cannot reach water or nutrients.
No sooner had I gave up, I started to try to find ways of fitting into Kentucky’s culture. I came to realize that Louisville people are friendly and supportive, especially the social workers. They consulted me and asked me to join ESL classes (English as a Second Language). This made me to improve my level of English and also interact with people of different origin like from Cuba, Syria, and many other western countries affected by war.
After the ESL class I wish to further my studies to be a social worker in the nearest future, to be able to help other people who are affected by war like me. I still strongly believe that they took our home, but they can’t take our future.
about the writer
Saladi Wa Maliko lived in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp for almost 11 years, between 2005 and 2016. He, his parents, and six siblings fled Somalia to seek safety. They arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, in August 2016 through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. While in the Kakuma camp, he attended school and later became a teacher. Education was free to all refugees in Kakuma, he says, no matter the age. For a year, he instructed approximately 150 young boys and girls during the week and almost 80 girls in a women-only class on Saturdays. “The girls feel shy in classes with boys and men,” he says, “in a class with only girls, they can freely ask questions.” During his time there, the girls reached the top of their classes. “Now, they are number one,” he says. “All of Kakuma’s classes are led by girls.”
Refugees in the Kakuma camp at the time were from various countries, such as Saladi’s home country of Somalia, as well as South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and others. During his year of teaching, Saladi says, “I learn from the students as they learn from me — how to live with other people. To respect each others’ backgrounds and traditions.”
In secondary school, or high school, he began writing short stories in both English and Kiswahili, detailing and editing his work by hand. His stories feature diverse themes: losing family, political corruption, race and ethnicity, families overcoming challenges together, and young people becoming public figures. He explains that his writings represent characters who grow and overcome. “You can’t just show one story,” he adds. His dreams of writing were nourished by a 10-month journalism class offered through FilmAid, and he began writing for their Refugee Magazine. These classes empower the voiceless, he says, “Refugees can feel they are a part of the global world.”
Now in the United States, “My work is attending ESL classes,” Saladi says. He lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Louisville with roommates and he rides a bus to his family’s home on the weekends to help his siblings with their assignments and to practice English. When he’s not writing or attending ESL at KRM, he is preparing to enroll in Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), seeking publishing opportunities, and applying for work. “I want a good job with good pay,” he says. “UPS, Amazon, FedEx.” In addition, he makes time for writing, songwriting, drumming, and acting.
Saladi tells of the inspiration he draws from his family. Both of his grandfathers fought for their beliefs and became renowned men, he says, despite political opposition. “I am not a grandson for nothing,” he says.