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Flash Floods Threatening Apostolate of Salesians at World’s Largest Refugee Camp in Kenya

Waters from River Tarach flooding a section of Kakuma Refugee Camp. Credit: Fr. Jose Padinjareparampil, SDB

Flash floods in the region of Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Lodwar are threatening the apostolate of members of the Religious Institute of Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) ministering at the world’s largest refugee camp, Kakuma, an official has told ACI Africa in an interview.

In the Wednesday, April 7 interview, the Director of Don Bosco Kakuma, an entity that runs four Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centers at Kakuma Refugee Camp, said the floods occasioned by the seasonal Tarach river have disrupted the operations of the SDB-run institutions “immensely.”

“The flooding river started approaching our institution way back in 2015 and at the moment, three workshops (carpentry, welding, and motor vehicle mechanics) have been swept away,” the Director, Fr. Jose Padinjareparampil said.

He added referencing the flash floods, “The situation has affected the enrolment of students in the mentioned course immensely since the Centre can no longer host students for learning in these trades.”

According to the Salesian missionary who is also the Parish Priest of Don Bosco Holy Cross Kakuma Catholic Parish of Lodwar Diocese, dealing with the flooding issue “is not easy; it is hard since when it floods the lives of people are in danger; no learning goes on, (for) fear of losing training materials, tools and equipment.”

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Diverting the river’s course away from the 29-year-old refugee camp that is home to an estimated 198, 146 people would be the best solution, according to Fr. Padinjareparampil.

“Ideally, the help needed would be for diversion of the river to retain the main Centre. This would be a major activity requiring much funds and expertise,” the native of India’s Kerala State who oversees the running of four TVET centers at Kakuma told ACI Africa April 7.

Deliberations with various stakeholders towards the diversion of the river “have not materialized,” the SDB Cleric who has been in Kakuma for the past seven year noted.

He added that the leadership of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “has offered partial support for the relocation of the washed away departments” to Don Bosco (DB) Kakuma 4 Centre located in the third section of the camp.

“Enrolment is low as compared to how it used to be in Don Bosco 1,” the Director of DB Kakuma noted, referencing the first of the TVET centers distributed at the camp, whose population is mainly made up of refugees who have fled the civil war in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan.

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“In the short term, help is needed for improving the buildings and equipment in the Don Bosco 4 Centre which is surrounded by a large young population of people of concern, interested in learning a trade,” the SDB member who has been part of the Salesian Province of Eastern Africa since 1985 added.

The Salesian Province of Eastern Africa comprises Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, and South Sudan.

During the April 7 interview, Fr. Padinjareparampil who has previously ministered in Tanzania appealed to organizations and people of goodwill to support DB Kakuma so that that the Salesians there “can continue to offer assistance through technical and vocational training aimed at empowering refugees with knowledge and skills for them to become self-reliant and regain their dignity.”

Inaugurated in 1993, a year after the camp was established, DB Kakuma, which is home to an estimated 2,222 students, strives to be “a center of hope and transformation that serves the youth in the camp and the local community to be self-reliant and regain their dignity under the charismatic style of Don Bosco that advances justice, peace and integrity of creation.”

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Through the four TVET centers dubbed Don Bosco Center 1-4, SDB members ministering there endeavor to empower refugees from different nations with knowledge and skills that help them secure employment opportunities and start small businesses for self-sustainability.

At Don Bosco Centre 1, students receive training in various trades such as motor vehicle mechanic, welding and metal fabrication, carpentry and joinery/cabinet making, tailoring, dressmaking, masonry, plumbing, electrical, secretarial, computer, English language and adult literacy.

Students at Don Bosco Centre 2, which is located in the second section of the camp, major in Agriculture courses such as crop farming, fish farming and other nutrition courses.

Those in Centre 3 receive training in Information Communication Technology (ICT), technical skills electrical and engineering courses and masonry, as well as vocational courses such as English literacy.

Meanwhile, Don Bosco Centre 4, which has three departments – tailoring, computer and English – serves an estimated 700 students per calendar year.

According to SDB leadership, Centre 4 which started in April 2016 was in response “to high demand of youth in need of education in Kakuma 3 and cannot walk long distances to seek education at the main Centre in Kakuma 1.”

During the April 7 interview, the Director of DB Kakuma revealed that SDB members have also established Don Bosco Technical Institute in Kakuma town to “ensure inclusion and integration” of the host Turkana community and refugee youth.

“Ever since Don Bosco activities started in 1993, the enrolment for host community youth remained minimal as much as the opportunities for admission were the same as that of refugees,” Fr. Padinjareparampil, a Priest since April 1991, told ACI Africa.

He explained, “The reason behind low enrolment of host community youth was the long distance (about six kilometers) from the Kakuma town and its environs to the Don Bosco Centers in camp.”

In the assessment of the Salesian missionary, the DB Technical Institute “is already meeting (its) objectives as enrolment for host community youth has increased from less than 10 students annually to 100 and above as of 2021.”

The Institute, Fr. Padinjareparampil noted, “also has a great impact on the Turkana community as Don Bosco (members) working in the church are able to contribute to the Diocese of Lodwar initiatives in vocational training to the youth,”.

“We have great hope that this institution can serve the youth from our various Parishes of the Diocese, which covers the whole of Turkana County and Technical skills development activities require greater attention,” he said.

In a separate interview, the Administrator of the Institute, Fr. Erick Owuor told ACI Africa that phased infrastructural developments at the entity are still ongoing.

Two phases have already been completed with the support of two Germany-based entities, that is, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Fr. Owuor further said.

He added that the 300-student population institution that began in 2018 offers both professional courses such as Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and Accounting Technicians Diploma (ATD) as well as technical courses like masonry, welding, and motor vehicle mechanics among others.

Beyond their apostolate within Kakuma Refugee Camp, members of the St. John Bosco-founded Religious Institute are also looking ahead to a longer-term engagement in Turkana through the Technical Institute “without necessarily depending on the existence or not of the camp,” Fr. Padinjareparampil told ACI Africa.

“Skilled youth who can engage in gainful employment is a need of the hour and Don Bosco Technical Institute is the place for that,” the SDB member said during the April 7 interview, and added, “Together with Don Bosco, the youth of Turkana can dream of a better future.”