Beating the odds in Kakuma Refugee Camp
23 year old Yvonne was born in a refugee camp. Her family has fled from two genocides and a war since 1972. For the last twelve years, Yvonne has lived in one of the world’s largest refugee camps: Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. Like many refugees, Yvonne’s movements are restricted and she has few opportunities. Yet Yvonne is determined to not only better her own future, but the futures of other young women living in Kakuma refugee camp.
My parents fled from Burundi in 1972 because the Tutsis were killing the Hutus and there was war. In 1972 they were placed in a camp in Rwanda. They stayed there from 1972 to 1994 when the Rwandan genocide occurred. They had to flee to Congo. That is where I was born in 1995.
We stayed in the camp from 1995 to 1996 when the war occurred in Congo. We went back to seek refuge in Rwanda since we could not go back to Burundi. There was war there too. We stayed in Rwanda from 1996 up to 2005, but the host community was saying that you have to go back to your country. Some days they would come and say we would be taken back forcefully. For us, we left our country in 1972, so it was like we were forgotten there. Where would we go?
In the camp also we had some policemen around and they were harassing girls. So we had to flee and came here to Kakuma. Now I have been here for 12 years.
Being a girl and a refugee is challenging. Here in the camp girls are vulnerable. Some families’ traditions do not allow girls to go to school. They believe that girls are for marriage and children and life without education. But for me, actually, my family is proud of me.
We also face security issues – like assault. You can’t walk around in the camp. The camp has small roads and lots of bushes where people can hide. So if you are a girl walking around at night, you can be raped. But they have to walk to get water and fire wood, so you cannot just stay home.
In the camp opportunities – like scholarships – are few. We are not allowed to move outside the refugee camp – we cannot go out to Nairobi just like that. You have to seek permission and you should have a very good reason to go. You cannot just say ‘I want to see a new place’. It is not acceptable since we are refugees. So we are confined in the camp.
Now, I work as a librarian here at Morneau Shepell Girls Boarding School. I support the girls to read and study. I was motivated to be with the girls because I know that the refugee girls, they have so many problems. Maybe when we share experiences they will say ‘oh! If Yvonne has survived all these things, why not me?’ So I am motivated to come to the school and be the librarian.
I have read about women who have succeeded. I believe I can succeed too.
From my childhood I have seen people succeeding through education – and you get education through books. So, for me, my dream is to go out of the camp and become someone who has an identity in a country – so I can no longer be called a refugee. I am going to achieve this through books.
In my secondary school I was performing well because I was reading story books – I was the best student in English. I read more books so that I could know how to express myself in front of people and how to write in examinations.
Because I have a dream to become someone important I still have to go on with my studies. I applied for a scholarship and I I got it! I would like to become an engineer because I am in love with the sciences. Also I am considering medicine.
If I did not have books, I do not think that I would be as I am today. In school, I used books throughout my whole process of learning. Without books, I don’t think I would have learned anything and I would not have been qualified to apply for a scholarship. After receiving the good news that I am among the successful candidates, I felt blessed and lucky. My hardworking in school, using books day and night, day in day out, was finally rewarded.
At Book Aid International, we are proud to have provided many of the books that helped Yvonne succeed in education and prepare for her scholarship. We believe that everyone should have access to books that will enrich, improve and change their lives, whatever their circumstances.
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