Colleagues from CDAC Network Member FilmAid, explain how The Refugee Magazine, set up by refugees, for refugees, is creating a vital space for communities living in Kakuma Refugee Camp to address their information needs.
Mama Dewit, as she is commonly referred to by those who know her, is an Eritrean Refugee based in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. Mama Dewit, a mother of one, arrived in Kakuma in the year 2012 with her now 13 year old son. She lives in the minority Eritrean community in the camp. When FilmAid first met Mama, her health was deteriorating by the day despite receiving medication from the humanitarian agency in charge of health. She is a breast cancer survivor.
Mama Dewit’s story was featured in the second issue of The Refugee Magazine produced by FilmAid. Her emotional story attracted the attention of her community and that of the humanitarian agencies who came out to help her. The Refugee Magazine gave her a voice and through the publication she received better health care and services. ‘I had been suffering in silence; I felt that no one would come to my rescue and that my life would never be any better’ she says.
Mama Dewit is among millions of refugees and asylum seekers in the world who at one time feel like they do not have a voice. Thousands more in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps continue to suffer in silence. Many rely on FilmAid to get life-saving information on services available in the camps. With both camps having access to only one or two radio stations as the main source of news, an alternative source of information is necessary.
In 2010, a group of volunteer journalists trained by FilmAid, under the Community Journalism Training Programme, approached FilmAid for help. They had formed an editorial board and were using the skills gained during their training to write stories for their communities. This was going to be their main source of information and entertainment. The group agreed to name the first ever refugee publication as ‘The Refugee Newsletter,’ a name they could identify with.
In 2013, The Refugee Newsletter was transformed into a bi-monthly magazine, featuring stories written by refugees. The change was mostly influenced by the need to share more human interest stories and the higher shelf life that magazines presented. Positive human interest stories had an impact on the thoughts and day-to-day life of the refugees and reflect FilmAid’s ideology of communication for social change.
FilmAid’s theory of change is based on the integration of access, creativity and participation, which drive individual and community change, contributing to positive social impact. Underpinning this approach is community collaboration, drawing from the Communicating with Communities (CwC) approach, which seeks to empower communities to voice their ideas and concerns so as to positively impact their situation. The Refugee Magazine is based on this approach as it is an active mouth-piece for refugees to ensure their voices are heard.. The magazine is distributed widely in the camps and also to partner organisations working in Dadaab and Kakuma, as well as Nairobi. Important issues raised in the magazine are thus communicated to the very agencies that are delivering programs to the refugees, and by sharing stories from refugees amongst the camps, other refugees can see that issues that may affect them are in fact shared by others, even across cultural and religious divides.
Each edition of The Refugee Magazine starts with an editorial meeting where journalism students decide on a specific theme for the edition. The theme is usually aligned to a Special Humanitarian Calendar day or important current issues in the camp. Thereafter, the journalists are given specific assignments that start their search for that one story that will make a difference.
After submission to the editors (also refugees) the stories are comprehensively fact-checked for accuracy to meet the publications’ stringent standards. Design and layout is finalised in the refugee camp, before being sent to Nairobi for printing. Once complete, copies are distributed free of charge throughout the refugee camps, particularly targeting community areas such as schools, journalism clubs, markets, libraries and at key events. A downloadable version is also shared through FilmAid’s website and social media platforms.
Since its inception, FilmAid’s journalism programme has seen more than 100 students complete the 10 months intensive course. As part of their training, the trainees are required to contribute for publication in the magazine. The fact that they have a publication that they can fine tune their skills, provides an excellent avenue for self-expression. Something that is sorely lacking in the refugee context in Kenya. The training can also provide livelihood outcomes for refugees once they return to their host country or are repatriated.
CwC is an important approach in the refugee camps in Kenya. With so many people restricted to such small areas, the potential for protection, health and WASH problems is high. By engaging people actively in a two-way communication process, FilmAid is assisting these communities in airing their own viewpoints on how the camps should function and respond to issues that directly affect their lives, while at the same time providing important avenues for the dissemination of critical life-saving information. The Refugee Magazine encompasses this approach, and with each issue there is hope that more people like Mama Dewit will have their voices heard, and their lives changed for the better.