Kakuma: Developing vocational skills in a refugee camp

Project completed
a man repairing a computer in his workshop, watched by six visitors.
Alfadil Abdallah repairing computers and mobile phones in his small shop. © Fabian Urech/SDC © Fabian Urech/DEZA

The SDC’s Skills for Life pilot project teaches vocational skills to refugees and residents of Kakuma, to enable them to work and earn a living. More than 580 young people were trained in phase one of this project, which was launched in 2013. Phase two began in summer 2016.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Vocational training

Vocational training
Forced displacement (refugees, IDP, human trafficking)
Basic life skills
01.07.2016 - 31.08.2019
CHF 2'050'000

Kakuma is a small town in Turkana County, one of the most remote parts of Kenya.  Once you get there, there is no indication that one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises is unfolding only 100 kilometres away. Civil war erupted in South Sudan in 2013, two years after the country had secured independence. 

More than one million of South Sudan’s people have already fled the country. In recent years, approximately 50,000 of them have settled in Kakuma. Here, on the banks of a dry river bed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) administers a huge camp of approximately 160,000 people, over half of whom are from South Sudan. 

The camp is their whole world

Kakuma camp was established in 1992 to provide temporary shelter to a few thousand people; it has since evolved into a vast settlement. The camp is like a huge village with small shops, motorcycle taxis, schools, basketball courts – it has everything. Most of the refugees have been there for years and many of the younger ones – one in ten inhabitants is a minor – were born in the camp. Since nobody is allowed to leave without permission, many residents know no other world.

Nevertheless, Alfadil Abdallah is happy to be there. Alfadil is a 28-year-old from Darfur, western Sudan, a region that has been at war for the past ten years. In 2011, he fled with his sister, first to South Sudan, then to Kenya. He lost his sister on the journey and has so far been unable to contact his family again. Many in Kakuma share the same fate.

In one of the countless corrugated metal shelters, Alfadil sits in front of a computer.  Last year, he and a friend set up the ‘Hong Kong Centre’ computer and mobile phone repair workshop. “It’s going well. I’m grateful to have been able to build a future for myself.” Alfadil was one of the Skills for Life project’s first participants. The project was launched by the SDC and implemented by Swisscontact and provides vocational training to young adults. It offers short three- to five-month training schemes that teach a dozen different trades, such as IT, hairdressing or sewing. A number of the project’s beneficiaries have since opened small stalls. Joseph Lenakiyo, the project leader, is optimistic, “Once they return home, these skills will help them to rebuild their lives.”

Occupations that meet local needs

Initially, 580 young people like Alfadil were given training. Phase two of the Skills for Life project began in July 2016. The goal is to train a further 2,500 people in 13 trades to meet local needs. Men and women aged between 15 and 25 are being trained in farming, mechanics, bricklaying, waste management, blacksmithing and working with tools. Others are developing skills in repairing computer equipment, sewing and hairdressing.

In turn, Kakuma’s entrepreneurs have assumed the role of trainers, sharing their knowledge of running small businesses. The project also addresses the issue of illiteracy. More than 800 people have taken courses in literacy and numeracy.


(Extract of an article by Fabian Urech for “Eine Welt/Un solo mondo/Un seul monde” magazine No. 4/December 2016)