Go Inside One of Africa’s Largest Refugee Camps

A behind-the-scenes look at how aid workers are supporting thousands of people fleeing from Kenya’s neighboring countries.
Feb 20, 2015·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya looks more like a run-down city. Hotels, schools, restaurants, and stores service more than 150,000 displaced people from South Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda.

But harsh conditions plague those living in this isolated area in northwestern Kenya. Aid workers from the International Rescue Committee fight overcrowding, a modest budget, and extreme heat to bring medical care to those in need.

Children fleeing violence from South Sudan’s civil war often arrive malnourished at the Nadapal outpost situated between the two countries’ borders, in need of immunizations and dietary supplements. Unstable conditions due to the neighboring war turn a trip to the outpost into a dangerous mission, with medical staff accompanied by an armed convoy for the three-hour drive each day.

The health workers don’t only focus on emergency care, but preventive care as well. Currently, the camp has a low rate of HIV, and it’s looking to keep it that way. The workers have established a successful education program geared toward teenagers that teaches sexual health and promotes abstinence and safe sex. Youth programs offer small discussion groups, and the promise of dance troupes entice the larger numbers of the teenage community to come together to watch educational skits addressing drug use and domestic abuse.

The IRC has even extended its services to the local Turkana people. Through its “Prevention With Positives” program, it has enlisted tribe members with positive HIV status to offer counseling and advice throughout the community.