CLWR and our partners have some amazing refugee colleagues in Kakuma camp and other refugee settlements around the world. Mahdi will represent them here.
“Me, one day, if God is willing, I want to be a politician. As a politician I will maintain peace. I will be transparent, I will consider different cultures and I will accept being corrected. As a politician, I will consider any human being as a somebody.”
Mahdi Riek Khor is a South Sudanese refugee, a Kakuma refugee camp resident, an elected community leader, a Child Protection Community Development worker and an aspiring politician—and he’s only 23 years old. In December 2013, he became the first secondary school graduate in his family and was returning home to Bentiu to see his mother after 13 years apart when violent hostilities disrupted his journey.
“Fighting reached Unity State on the 19th of December. I remember it. There was a lot of destruction—guns, killings, arbitrary arrests and the rape of women and girls. I had to come to Kakuma for safety.”
Mahdi is one of more than 45,000 people to reach Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya since December 2013—among almost two million South Sudanese people to have become displaced inside or outside the country in the same period.
“Life is a struggle in Kakuma. I can’t meet my basic needs. I am providing for 9 nieces and nephews. I don’t have good shelter. I’m not comfortable in the environment. There are no televisions to watch the news and learn about the world. Now the only world I know is inside Kakuma.”
Despite this, Mahdi is among 90 refugees who work with Lutheran World Federation as Child Protection Community Development workers, working to prevent and respond to child protection issues across the camp’s population of 101,000 children. In Kakuma IV, the camp’s newest area, the team is supporting children with various protection concerns: children separated from their parents and family, children who have experienced or witnessed notable violence, children vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse—most of whom have lost everything and need much more than agencies can provide.
“Child Protection work is very, very hard,” Mahdi says. “It’s the working environment, going door-to-door, walking very far when the condition is too hot. We have a problem with promises. We want to help but we can’t always fulfil [needs], so some people see us as an enemy. They think we are lying.”
Refugees working to protect children in their own camp communities show courage and commitment. The work is challenging, resources are limited and cultural practices often conflict with the rights that workers are trying to promote.
Mahdi considered the question of why he continues with the work. “I want to encourage children. Life has many challenges. It is my responsibility to help protect people. These cases, when you can resolve a situation, reunite a child with their family. I reunited two children with their parents and the children were most happy. They were so, so happy. That’s why we do the work.”
It is easy to imagine Mahdi as a very successful leader in the future. “Here in Kakuma, we hope that opportunity will come. Kakuma teaches us to live in a hard situation but I see now that I have met people here I would not have met outside. You can learn from different nationalities—their culture, their attitudes. We can learn from them.”
In the meantime, Mahdi is working hard to support children in Kakuma—considering every child a somebody.
-submitted by Lutheran World Federation World Service Kenya – Djibouti Program