The Silent Struggle: Young Mothers in Kakuma Refugee Camp

Kakuma Refugee Camp is a diverse community. When one steps into it the first day; as one walks its streets, many stories echo into one’s ears. One always encounters mixed emotions. On one hand, human potential is wasted, on the other, unrivalled resilience and enthusiasm to be better, and to do better amidst shortage. One of these signs is true for young refugee mothers. In the dusty lanes of Kakuma Refugee Camp, young mothers carry the weight of the future. They are the nurturers, the educators, and, often, the sole providers for their children. The UNHCR’s Youth Strategy reveals a stark reality: a significant portion of the camp’s nearly 40,000 youths are women who balance motherhood and personal growth.

Kakuma is widely known for its many stories of resilience from different groups within the camp that have lived up to and are working towards their aspirations headstrong. Of course, despite the neverending challenges, they see vast possibilities and opportunities. Limited support from international organisations, including the UNHCR, and others on the brink of change has made a notable difference for the youth in Kakuma.

The Baseline Research

But there’s one group that’s not widely spoken about, and these are the young refugee mothers. Two months ago, TEDI Africa‘s Kakuma Team together with the Girl Power Action Initiative (GPAI) set about a preliminary field assessment focused on this underserved group. It sought to understand their challenges and living conditions within the camp following pregnancy and childbirth. A short backstory of how these young girls found themselves in motherhood so early could be presented in various ways: early marriages, lack of comprehensive sex education, peer pressure and influence, and socioeconomic factors. This unprecedented incident dawned a different reality for them, one they were not ready for. It posed a significant obstacle to many aspects of their lives, for instance, their education. 

What they told us:

Most of the young mothers couldn’t continue with their studies due to some of these reasons: insufficient resources to facilitate learning, lack of financial child support, unwillingness to return to school after pregnancy due to social trauma caused by degraded self-esteem, family issues, rejection and punishment from parents, early marriages to husbands who do not fulfil their responsibilities, and neglect of the educational needs of their young wives. Additionally, the pressure of making ends meet by providing basic needs forces them to pursue different entrepreneurial ventures to try to sustain themselves and their small families.

Despite these setbacks, most expressed a deep passion for education. One of the young mothers interviewed mentioned how lonely it gets when they see their peers going to school and having nothing to worry about except for their studies, while they spend most of their days at home occupied with household chores and worrying about their babies’ next meal. This young mother has spent three years away from school, at home as a housewife. 

Though they expressed the need to resume their academic journey, most had a different approach to this question. Some appreciated the traditional educational system and were willing to continue with it, while others preferred vocational training programs, community-based education, workshops, and online courses. All of these educational options were chosen based on how well they resonated with their schedule and availability to participate, as they also support their children back home.

Employment opportunities are scarce, leaving young mothers with limited options to earn a living. Without employable skills, they find themselves in a daily struggle to support their families, which can escalate into domestic violence, further perpetuating their vulnerability and poverty. The educational options they hoped would provide them with skills, such as beauty and hairdressing, business literacy, computer skills, tailoring, and professional and technical courses. They saw these as pathways to accessing various opportunities that could contribute to their financial stability and the well-being of their families.

The young mothers openly discussed the support they wished to receive, including child support, mentoring, counselling, and financial aid for their education, as they believed it would encourage and motivate their involvement. Their discussions centred on both short-term and long-term goals related to economic empowerment as single young mothers and teenage mothers. They were firm in their belief that education would equip them with the necessary skills to achieve economic success. Their aspirations are simple yet profound: a stable and secure future for themselves and their children. They dream of breaking the cycle of poverty and finding a place in society where they are valued and respected. And by that, they appreciate any chance to engage in meaningful work or further education, recognizing their potential to reduce domestic violence and enhance their overall well-being.

Teenage and young mothers face numerous challenges within their communities as they struggle to make ends meet. From the moment of conception, many of their aspirations are dashed due to early marriages, lack of support, and even neglect from loved ones. However, with a fervent desire burning within these young mothers, educational initiatives can breathe life into their seemingly dormant ambitions. By expanding the capabilities of these young mothers and teenagers, we can create an environment conducive to their success. No dreams should be abandoned simply because of pregnancy; everyone deserves the chance to realize their visions.

Way forward:

To address the challenges faced by teenage and young mothers, several recommendations can be implemented. Firstly, there is a need to raise public awareness about the fact that pregnancy should not halt a girl’s education, emphasizing the importance of continuing educational pursuits. Additionally, establishing programs that offer child support services can help alleviate the pressures faced by this demographic, enabling them to focus on their education and prospects. Furthermore, implementing a cash assistance education program targeted at vulnerable individuals who are passionate about learning can provide much-needed financial support to pursue their academic goals. Lastly, continuous educational programs with practical sessions should be facilitated to equip these young mothers with essential job market skills, coupled with certifications to enhance their employability and competitiveness in the workforce. By implementing these recommendations, we can create a more supportive and enabling environment for teenage and young mothers to pursue their educational aspirations and achieve success.

This groundwork indeed left a lasting impression on the team and the whole of TEDI, it reminded us how significant our purpose was and the prompt response they needed. And that’s why TEDI Africa has intervened by offering tailored programs to empower these resilient individuals to break the cycle of poverty. Through academic assistance, leadership development, life skills training, and motherhood support and counselling, TEDI Africa equips these women with the tools and resources necessary to navigate life’s challenges and thrive. By bolstering their educational foundation, nurturing leadership qualities, imparting practical life skills, and providing emotional support, 

TEDI Africa aims to transform the lives of these young mothers, enabling them to rewrite their narratives and create a brighter future for themselves and their children.

The story of young mothers in Kakuma Refugee Camp is one of silent struggle and also of silent hope. Their state in the face of all these challenges serves as a rallying call for global support to provide the support they desperately need. It is only through collective effort that we can help transform their aspirations into reality and ensure that their voices are heard.

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