One of the world’s largest refugee camps in Kenya has hosted a rare web-streaming event showcasing stories of resilience and creativity.
The TEDxKakumaCamp, held on Saturday at the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, brought together current and former refugees, as well as activists and aid workers, to share their experiences in an effort to change perceptions and break stereotypes.
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The one-day gathering marked the first time that TED – the influential conference network that hosts online talks on a range of scientific, cultural and academic topics around the world – held an event at a refugee camp.
Among the speakers at the event was South Sudanese track-and-field athlete Yiech Pur Biel, who represented the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and Somali American supermodel Halima Aden, who grew up at the Kakuma camp.
After returning to Kakuma for the first time since moving to the United States at the age of six, Aden said she has had many flashbacks.
“A lot of girls, not just Muslims, follow my journey who may come from a similar background,” she told Al Jazeera’s The Stream programme.
Over the past year and a half, the 20-year-old model, who wears a hijab, has appeared in nine magazine covers, including Vogue.
The hijab is a headscarf worn by Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion.
“To think two years ago, I could even pick up a magazine and flip the inside pages and see someone dressed like me. So, it’s been quite the journey.”
A former refugee from South Sudan, Mary Nyiriak Maker, who now teaches at the Kakuma camp, was also on the line-up of speakers
The 22-year-old said she returned in the hope of inspiring young people.
“I look at the population in the camp, especially, the population of the young – most of them are hopeless – and seeing me as their teacher who is almost their peer, will actually encourage them to move on, to push on, to see that life is not about the camp.”
“Life is something more ahead and that’s what I want them to believe.”
— Mohammed Jamjoom (@MIJamjoom) June 9, 2018
The Kakuma camp was set up in 1992, initially to take in mostly Sudanese refugees. It is now hosting about 185,000 people who have fled war or persecution from 19 African countries.
A May 2018 report by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the UNHCR estimates Kakuma’s informal economy is worth $56m.
“Everybody here says that they believe an event like this is extremely important, not just because it counteracts negative stereotypes about refugees but also it will inspire so many refugees around the world,” said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Kakuma.
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and co-host of TEDxKakumaCamp, said the event was the “most logistically challenging, but also one of the most moving” staged by the TED organisation.
“Most Europeans, Australians and Americans think that all the refugees are coming their way, but frankly most of them are in countries like Kenya and yet they’re invisible,” she told Al Jazeera.
“We are hoping with this event, we could really illuminate the camp but also the extraordinary refugees, the talents and ideas they have by putting them on as powerful a stage as the TED stage,” Fleming added.