Report on “The Invisible City: Kakuma”

The following report was written and submitted by Zachary Schroeder.

The screening of The Invisible City, hosted by the East Africa Institute of the Aga Khan University, Simon Fraser University, the University of the Fraser Valley, Queen Elizabeth Scholars and DOXA, proved to be a rousing success. The theatre was packed and the audience enthusiastically engaged with the panel of speakers. In the discussion hosted by UFV Professor Cherie Enns; Dr. Alex Awiti, Douglas Ragan of UN Habitat, the filmmaker Lieven Corthouts, and Hussein, a former resident of Kakuma sponsored by WUSC, provided insight into the refugee crisis and the Kakuma settlement in Kenya. Everyone departed having a deeper understanding of nature of living in Kakuma. With this new knowledge, more should be done to raise awareness and to provide aid to the refugees and countries affected by conflict.

The Film and Kakuma

The Invisible City communicated that Kakuma is a place where many people are forced to settle as they wait to be chosen to migrate to another country for a better life. However, few are chosen which makes it feels like winning the lottery. Many refugees come to Kenya from countries suffering from conflict that these refugee camps have grown into full-sized cities. One student in the audience pointed out that there is another refugee city in Kenya which is also quite large. The event encouraged the attendees to think about the ways in which the residents of these refugee cities could be aided, even if that support was only in raising awareness of their existence.

The film followed the lives of three people in Kakuma. A child, a young man, and a young woman were struggling through the poorly structured education system. The young child had been separated from her parents; the young man dreamed of where he’d go and what he’d do if he were chosen to migrate; and the young woman hoped to get a high enough grades in school to prove to her parents that she could study towards becoming a doctor. Each of the stories was tragic with only one of the three seeming to have a happy ending in sight.

The young child, a girl, had been separated from her parents and her home country of Congo which was caught in the middle of a civil war. The girl had made it to Kakuma, but her mother was still in their native country. Though she did not have her parents with her, a woman took her and other children in, raising them and caring for them as if they were her own. Financial resources were scarce and she did not know how she would feed all the children, but they banded together as a family to survive Kakuma together.

The young man had dreams of making a name for himself when he arrived to the United States of America. He had visions of the USA being a great land of opportunity where he would not have to face constant oppression. Knowing that being selected for immigration to the USA was unlikely, he considered making a journey to Europe on foot. He had heard of others who had made the journey and hoped that he could escape the oppression in Kakuma.

The young woman who hoped to get a high grade failed to get the grade she desired. She knew that she would be forced into an arranged marriage and that she would not be permitted to pursue further education if she stayed. She decided to make the long journey to Europe.

Attendees

The Vancity Theater in Vancouver was filled with attendees. Simon Fraser University hosted the event, partnering with Aga Khan University and UN Habitat, to raise awareness about the circumstances in Kakuma. Attendees included students from the University of the Fraser Valley, Simon Fraser University, and residents of Vancouver who expressed interest in the film. Some of the attendees happened to randomly walk in and some were former residents of Kakuma. The film has garnered attention for the state of the refugee crisis in Kenya, and has more people thinking about the refugee crisis in Africa.

Attendees were not merely informal observers. The audience readily engaged the panel discussion, asking questions and raising points about Kakuma and other refugee cities in Kenya. Many brought their own knowledge of these issues to the discussion, which kept discussions moving forward. Students from UFV brought their knowledge about global issues to the discussion, and some were eager to learn more about the state of the refugee crisis. There were more questions than could be answered during the panel’s questions and answer session, and discussions continued out into the lobby where people could talk with the panelists.

Brief Overview of Discussion

There were four panelists: Dr. Alex Awiti, Lieven Corthouts, Douglas Ragan of UN Habitat, and Hussein, a former resident of Kakuma. The panel was moderated by Cherie Enns. Each of the panelists brought their expertise and individual experiences in dealing with the refugee crisis to the discussion. Dr. Awiti spoke about how the refugee crisis has affected government and the complications within Kenya’s borders; Douglas Ragan spoke about the UN’s response and how temporary settlements have formed into cities must be taken into consideration in terms of social justice; Hussein spoke to his firsthand experiences and how difficult it was living in the city; and Lieven spoke to his experiences in interacting with residents of Kakuma while making the film. Each person expressed that dealing with these issues, and helping the people of Kakuma, must be done by raising awareness and finding a cause to help.

Conversation and Food

Conversations continued for hours after the discussion. Appetizers were served, and people took to talking with panelists and with each other about the content of the film and of the panel. Many people expressed interest in understanding what it is like living as a refugee in a place like Kakuma, so many people spoke with Hussein and other attendees about what life was like there. Others spoke to Dr. Awiti and Douglas Ragan about policy and how these issues can be addressed moving forward. Others talked to the filmmaker about his film and his firsthand experiences in interacting with the residents of Kakuma. Many people expressed interest in taking what they had learned and becoming more proactive in advocating for the residents of Kakuma.

Conclusion

The film raised awareness for Kakuma and the refugee crisis as a whole in Africa. It has encouraged people to start thinking of ways to aid the people suffering in Kakuma. The first-hand experience of living in Kakuma was shared by many residents, one of whom spoke on the panel to raise awareness. More attention is being drawn toward Africa’s refugee crisis and this event has been part of drawing the attention of people in core countries to the struggles of countries on the periphery. Personal accounts of these issues begin to humanize the people in these peripheral countries more for people in Canada, which can only serve to garner more attention for the people of Africa.

 

 

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