Kenya: storytelling for change
04 May 2012

Refugee incentive staff at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya participate in communication skills training. (Katie Allan/JRS)
Although tasked with many responsibilities at home and at work, it is hoped that the refugee incentive staff will find some time to write more about their experiences.
Kakuma, 4 May 2012 – An enthusiastic and creative group of 33 refugees gathered at the Arrupe Learning Centre in Kakuma Refugee Camp last week to learn about communications and writing. Two workshops were organised to develop skills related to the written word – stories, testimonies and personal reflections – as a means of helping those outside the camp to understand life there and relate to the journey and plight of refugees. Stories from the refugees will be published online in the future.

A message to the outside world

Located in the northwestern corner of Kenya, Kakuma Refugee Camp could be quite invisible to much of the world if it were not for the power of communications and media. News articles, Facebook posts and website pages coupled with the power of internet technology ensure that the life-changing work of aid agencies there does not go unnoticed.

As Regional Communications Officer for JRS, I focus on communicating our activities to a wide audience, however for that to be effective I need to hear the stories of life in our projects – both the everyday and the exceptional. There are no people better placed to tell these stories and bring their message to the outside world, than the refugees themselves. The workshops I led in Kakuma were designed to bring out the talents and creativity of the refugees participating.

Training the trainer

Topics for the workshops included, the importance of messaging and branding, JRS audiences and supporters, the essence of a compelling story, JRS communications tools, writing testimonies and articles, and internal communications best practice. Those who attended the workshops will be able to use their skills for their own future development both inside the camp and later in life, as well as to train other refugees.

'I plan to apply my knowledge by convening staff members and explaining the part each person needs to play in JRS communications’ said one participant.

All the participants who attended are incentive staff and are supervisors of other incentive staff. The term 'incentive staff’ describes the many refugees who help keep Kakuma running smoothly and who support and guide their fellow refugees as they arrive in the camp. Paid a small monthly stipend, incentive staff work for various aid agencies in teaching, administration, counseling and other areas – learning new skills and supporting the agency staff members. As refugees, they are not allowed to work, so incentive staff roles are the closest alternative.


The major outcome from each of the one-day workshops was a short piece of written work from participants. The quality of writing and the original thought in each piece was inspiring. The stories ranged from personal histories and testimonies to issues surrounding health, disability and gender. One article which really touched me, talked of an unusually rainy day in the camp when a JRS car got stuck in the mud. Not one, not two, not three, but four seriously ill refugees in a nearby hospital offered to help pull the car out! One by one they called from the hospital window asking if they could assist. Although much appreciated, the help was not ultimately needed as it turned out a JRS driver was on his way to assist. However the message of the story was clear and powerful – even in a place where hope is hard to find, where refugees suffer not only with their circumstances, but also with illness – the spirit of people wanting to help each other remains. In essence, we are all the same.

Future writing plans

The reaction to the workshops was positive and uplifting. Although tasked with many responsibilities at home and at work, it is hoped that the refugee incentive staff will find some time to write more about their experiences. Instilled with the confidence that their stories, their challenges, and their perceptions of life in Kakuma are the most interesting to JRS friends and supporters, one participant said: 'The training has been very helpful as it has helped me to be confident in what I am doing and writing.’

Stories help build compassion, empathy, and understanding and encourage those outside the situation to stand in solidarity with refugees, helping and advocating for them where they can.

JRS has been accompanying and serving refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, since 1994. The long-standing camp has over 90,000 refugees of over 11 different nationalities. JRS works in the areas of education and psychosocial counseling and helps refugees to gain new skills in order to  have hope for the future, no matter how long their stay in the camp.

Katie Allan, JRS Eastern Africa Communications officer

Press Contact Information
Katie Allan
+254 20 3874152