Building resilience in Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement
In Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement camp, 20 km from Kakuma in Turkana County, Lilo* a refugee from Congo is busy sewing bags in preparation for World Refugee Day.
Lilo, a mother of six, left Congo in 2017. “I used to be a community radio presenter. One day as I was looking for content, I got some sensitive information about the rebels. That evening, while I was at the radio station, they went to my house, beat up my kids and took my husband,” details Lilo. “Then they came for me, put a sack over my head and took me to a forest where I was raped and beat up by more than 10 men. Since I was bleeding so much, they thought I was dead and dumped me by the roadside. I was taken to the hospital and two days later, I escaped with my children to Kenya. My husband later found his way here.”
Lilo is one of 178 refugee women alongside 28 other women from the Turkana community that form the Kalobeyei Handicraft Cooperative. The cooperative, based at the business incubation center, was established through UN Women Kenya’s project on Enhancing Women’s Resilience in Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement through Integrated Livelihood Interventions. The project was designed to bring livelihood opportunities to vulnerable women in refugee and humanitarian settings, particularly survivors of GBV.
“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp,” says Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. “[Thus,] providing women with the opportunity to earn a living is an important step that will help them fend for themselves in the camp and where they will go after,” explains Idil.
The cooperative uses traditional skills, upscaling to current trends, to produce artworks such as jewelry, baskets, fashion bags, clothes, and purses, which are sold to both national and international markets.
“We work with survivors of gender-based violence and women at risk. And to enhance cohesion between the two communities, we have integrated women from the host community,” says Esther Ekure, the project entrepreneurship officer for the cooperative. “We want them to make decisions as women household managers, and to use the stipend they get to improve their nutritional value, as they can purchase what is not provided by the UNHCR basket, explains Esther.
“Right now, we are preparing for world refugee day. We have booked a stand where we will sell the products” says Esther. “In 2019, we made more than 1,000 USD” adds Esther.
Fighting COVID 19
In 2020, when COVID-19 hit, the cooperative had to adapt and adhere to the government directives to avoid the spread of the virus. The women had to do the beading and baskets from their houses, while the tailors worked in shifts.
“I remember Esther brought a surgical mask and asked us to replicate it,” “We made so many attempts until we got it,” says Lilo.
“I took the sample to UNHCR, who later ordered 500 masks. Other organizations started making their orders, and we got so busy! I remember the biggest order we got was to make 25,000 masks, and with that we made 2.5 million KES (21,256 USD), which we channeled to the cooperative,” recalls Esther.
Road to recovery
Through the cooperative, the women are trained on business management, savings and record keeping.
“When I first received 25,000 KES from the cooperative, my husband could not believe it. He had to come here to confirm,” says Lilo. “It is through this group, that I have made friends, I’m able to smile and feel like I’m human again. Since I am the one who brings money to the table, my husband appreciates me more, and has been helping me to take care of our kids.”
When COVID-19 struck, the travel restrictions imposed around the world led to a drop in sales on some of the product lines. Regina Nanok, a member from the host community and the secretary of the cooperative, appreciates the lifting of the ban. “I focus a lot on jewelry making and beading. Our sales had dropped but now we are starting to make sales again. We are even getting visitors in our center,” she says.
With the support of the Government of Japan, UN Women is working with Don Bosco in Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement through a livelihood project: Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access & Protection in Crisis Response (LEAP): Promoting the Empowerment of Women and Girls within the Humanitarian- Development Nexus in Kenya. The project has been supporting 206 women from refugee and host community, who work at Kalobeyei Handicraft Cooperative.