Since 1991, Kenya has been home to increasing numbers of refugees from all round East Africa.
Prior to that time, Kenya hosted refugees mainly from Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia but they stayed in urban areas, not in camps.
But from ’91, camps like Kakuma and Dadaab were opened. And since then, generations of refugees have been born, despite the camps supposedly established to serve as temporary abodes. Refugees were only meant to stay briefly or until peace had been restored in their respective countries. So since peace hasn’t come quickly to Somalia, Sudan or Burundi, agencies like UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) have had to play Herculean roles in assisting more than half a million refugees.
Fortunately, agencies like Film Aid have realised there is vast untapped artistic potential in the camps just waiting to be developed.
Proof of that creative capacity was confirmed this past Monday when at Kobo Gallery, the artistic talents of a number of camp-and urba-based refugees were shown.
Thanks to training designed by Film Aid and supported by a range of agencies, including UNHCR, IOM, GIZ, UN Information Centre and Amnesty International, a brand new crop of refugee filmmakers and cartoonists have been born.
“We don’t need to be called ‘refugee’ filmmakers any more,” says Abdul Patient, the director of photography (DOP) for the award-winning film It has killed my Mother, directed and scripted by Amina Rwimo.
Both Amina an Abdul confirmed their new status as filmmakers this year after being trained by Film Aid and making their 24-minute film.
A number of refugees from Kakuma, Dadaab and Nairobi took part in the training and also produced short films.
But it is only Amina’s and Abdul’s that was selected to be part of the Second IOM Global Migration Festival.
The first Migration Festival screened films in 89 countries so it is quite likely that their film will be seen in as many places. It’s beautifully filmed cinematically, and the story itself, while apparently being a love story, also has a deeper and more poignant message, about Female Genital Mutilation(FGM).
But Film Aid also involved Kenyan cartoonist Victor Ndula in training of the artistes who are currently in the process of writing and illustrating stories about refugee life. Ultimately, they’ll produce a graphic novel, illustrating refugees’ lives expressed from the perspective of refugees themselves.
“This is the ultimate goal of our programme,” says Aroji Otieno, a Film Aid staff member. “It’s to enable refugees to tell their own stories, not to have outsiders telling them in their stead.”