″A Universe full of stories″ | Refugees and migration | DW | 17.06.2022

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Refugees and migration

"A Universe full of stories"

In Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei integrated settlement, residents are trained in producing audio content. Producing the program can be difficult especially for female community reporters.

Kakuma, Kenya | Media Development

A street in the Kakuma refugee camp

Sudi Omar Noor gets up at four in the morning. It is still dark in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya. The 23-year-old prepares breakfast and lunch for her aunt's household of six. Cooking and household chores are considered a woman’s job in the Somali community where Sudi lives. Her aunt has left the house already. She runs a small shop on one of the camp's bustling shopping streets. This leaves Sudi with many responsibilities: "My mum went back to Somalia with my younger brothers. I stopped going to school three years ago to start working, so I can support my family," Sudi laughs. It’s a happy laugh with a hint of frustration.

"Being a journalist is my dream, and I can’t give up on that"

Sudi fled Somalia with her mother and seven siblings in 2008. Her mother always treated her children equally. All four sons and four daughters should go to school. She wanted her daughters to have the opportunities she was denied, Sudi recalls. When Sudi leaves the house at eight, the sun is already baking the arid ground and every step kicks up dust from the road. She hurries to catch one of the coveted motorbike taxis, called boda bodas. Once she didn't get one and had to walk. Boys recognized her on the road and threw stones at her. They called her a disgrace to the Somali community and that her voice shouldn’t be heard on the radio. "I don’t have many friends in my own community," Sudi says. "Mothers say I am a bad influence on their daughters. So I stay away. But this is my life. I am not doing anything bad."

Kakuma, Kenya | Media Development

Sudi Omar Noor (center) during a DW Akademie training in March 2022

Sudi is a community reporter for the audio program Sikika, run by FilmAid Kenya in cooperation with DW Akademie. The 18 reporters – half of whom are women – provide the refugee and host community with information about life around the camp. Many of the women working at Sikika share similar life stories as Sudi and have to overcome similar challenges to pursue their profession. She has often thought about quitting, Sudi says. But each time, Sikika’s editor Taphine Otieno convinced her to go on. "He is not only my boss," Sudi says, "he is also a friend, teacher and mentor. He always reminds me that being a journalist is my dream, and I can't give up on that."

Kenia | Taphine Otieno - Content Development Coordinator Sikika

“He is a friend, teacher and mentor”: Taphine Otieno is Sikika's Content Development Coordinator

Breaking down communication hierarchies 

In the meantime, Sudi and her reporter colleagues have arrived in the converted shipping container that serves as the reporters' office. Here they prepare interviews with experts, translate quotes, record their stories and edit them.

Kakuma, Kenya | Media Development

The converted shipping container that serves as editorial office and studio for Sikika

With their work, Sikika's reporters are not only redefining gender roles. They also break down the camp’s communication hierarchies. It’s not the refugees being informed by organizations or camp authorities, it’s them informing their communities. Every other week, they send their one-hour program to more than 200 listener groups all over Kakuma and the neighboring settlement, Kalobeyei. After each listening session, the reporters get feedback from their audience: What can they do better? Which topics should be dealt with in the coming episodes? This way, the reporters are always up-to-date about their listeners’ information needs. 

Humanitarian organizations are still getting used to questions from refugees. "It is always difficult to get interviews with experts from the organizations," says Taphine Otieno, who has to make sure that each program is produced on time. "Very few of them can just talk to the reporters. To get permission, such a request goes from Kakuma to Nairobi and, in the worst case, to an international headquarters. And then all the way back – it can take several weeks to get an interview." 

Reporters overcome many hurdles 

In Sikika, which means "to be heard" in Kiswahili, the community reporters often talk about basic human needs like health, food, water and education. But the program is also about sports, culture and understanding between the different ethnic groups. In Kakuma, South Sudanese, Congolese, Ethiopians, Somalis and the Turkana host community coexist as neighbors. People who fled conflict in their home country now often live next door to members of the opposing group. Tensions in the camp are therefore not uncommon. 

The camp’s diversity is both a strength and a weakness. All major ethnic groups are represented among the Sikika team members who provide different story angles in order to accurately portray Kakuma and its residents. "There are so many stories to tell. Kakuma is a universe of stories. One day I'll write a book with this title," Sudi says, confidently smiling.

Kakuma, Kenya | Media Development

Sudi Omar Noor (left) out reporting with community reporter colleagues Abdirahman Ahmed (center) and David Omot (right) of Sikika

The Sikika team supports and encourages each other, Sudi says. Together, they overcome daily hurdles – whether it’s transport, availability of interview partners or hostility against the female reporters. "I want to be a role model for the girls here in the camp. There are so many great, strong people here in Kakuma. We need to tell our communities about them so they learn. That's why I don't stop working as a reporter."

Once home, Sudi still has to prepare dinner. The older generation especially likes to stick to the old ways of life, she explains. However, her aunt supports Sudi in her choices. Younger people are much more understanding: "When my cousin comes home early from work, he sometimes helps me with the cooking. But then we have to close the door so that the other men don't see him." Sudi giggles while starting to prepare supper.

 

The audio platform “Sikika” provides reliable local information for about 200,000 people living in and around Kakuma refugee camp. FilmAid Kenya and DW Akademie established the platform in 2020 to improve communication between refugees, the host community and humanitarian organizations that provide basic services like food support, health care and education. It is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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