By Claudio Freitas, TFF Regional Coordinator for the Latin America region

In January 2019, I visited the Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in the North-western region of Kenya, as part of my work on projects related to interdisciplinary content and institutional setting, curriculum design and online instruction for engineering education in refugee camps in Jordan and Kenya. The camp was established in 1992 as a humanitarian response to the political crisis in South Sudan. Today, this camp has a population of 186,692 registered refugees.

My time in Kakuma was short, but intense – and I learned a lot. I am writing this short blog to share my experiences, memories, and thoughts with the TFF Community and beyond.

Currently millions of people live with limited access to basic human rights, so it should come as no surprise that food security is a problem that requires an immediate solution. On one hand, there is no doubt that this issue is being addressed at Kakuma – for example investments are being made for food rations, and for bringing in equipment to support smallholder farmers living in the camp. The World Food Programme is investing $1million per month on smallholder farmers in Kakuma in order to help raise their incomes and improve their livelihoods.

While this type of investment is great, I walked away understanding that practical solutions like these are not enough to solve food security. What is really needed is for us to find ways to construct new economic models that foster empowerment and inclusion.

Our understanding of the root causes of food security issues in refugee camps is limited because we have limited access to quality data. Still, if we look closely at this problem, we can see a correlation to other fragile settings in our society. I have spent time seeking to understand the political, economic, technological, and social perspectives surrounding this topic. In the end, by looking at this problem through the affected refugees’ eyes, I would like to paint the big picture that establishes the core value of this problem at the human element.

To solve food security, we must focus on empathy, collaboration, and a willingness to listen.

So here are my three main takeaways from my time at Kakuma camp:

  1. Donations are fundamental to address immediate needs, but they are not a long-term solution. It is time to think about more sustainable solutions where refugees are economically empowered and included in social systems, so that they no longer rely on donations and international aid to advance in their lives.
  2. You might not have a chance to visit or help any refugee camp in your entire life. However, this is a humanitarian problem that has a strong correlation with other fragile contexts in our society. If you plan to do anything to help create a better world to feed 9 billion people by 2050, please do not use numbers and graphs published by global reports as your only source of data to understand any societal situations. An on-site visit is worth a thousand reports.
  3. Food is a social problem that requires a social solution. I don’t want to deny the importance of any technological solution or service addressing the food problem. However, do not underestimate the power of collaboration to scale the impact of your solution. It is by creating networking and engaging in a global community that we build stronger foundations to the work that we do. I am saying that because what led us to food security issues was not a lack of resource, but it was a lack of humanity driven by selfishness, ambition, individualism, and disrespect for human lives.