I was tasked to visit the business we have in Kakuma.  I was there for ten days:

As I start my day in Kakuma I hear women working around our compound singing songs about Jesus. Oh, what a glorious way to start the day, surely this is how it should be? Across the river in the evening and in the morning you can hear the proclamations. Sometimes orthodox chants, Roman Catholic choral voices or harmonious worship songs from the Christians.

Please don’t be tempted to rationalise this as the culture of a less developed people, shackled by a lack of opportunity. Do you honestly think you are better informed or more enlightened? Well shame on us for allowing such ignorance. I eat, chat and hang out with these people and they wrestle with the same daily problems as my neighbours in Bristol. They have ‘lifestyle choices’, materialistic influences and competing messages just as we do in the west.

A crucial difference, from what I can tell, is limitations on credit. As a rule all you have is what’s in your account. Resisting the temptation to live beyond your means seems easier.  However, the choices between necessities and luxuries are still there. The relational issues are just as real. A husband stopping on route home to spend his wages filling his belly with a meal that includes meat while there is none at home for his wife and children happens in the same way as the Brit who may visit the bookies ahead of providing for his family.  I guess my observation is people are not nearly as different as I may have at one time imagined.

There are opportunities for those who work hard, even around refugee camps, and for the idle they quickly get left behind. The obvious difference between our cultures is one of gratefulness through celebration and song. Approaching the daily grind with a heart rooted in the promises of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with a certainty that whatever trials are approaching they’ll never be deserted or forsaken – that’s the difference.

Joy echoes through the day and night providing the anthem to sustain our labours and accompany the onset of another evening of community time and rest.  I will miss Kakuma.

Hard work in the desert sun making concrete plinths for loos in the camps. Note the typical footwear for this kind of work.

  1. Chris said:

    Hi Adrian,

    It looks like your doing what you do best, connecting and engaging with people. I like that you caution us against stereotyping the Kakuma women, of which you do an excellent job, but you do hint that working class British men are feckless gamblers and reckless borrowers! Living within ones means is also an excellent tenet to follow; “a lender nor a borrower be”. But we are fortunate to be able to buy houses well beyond our current means (long term) and borrow money to fix the car so we can get to work (short term). Of course I know you were referring to the excesses (the former exposing our greed as some seek to live in properties beyond their need, and those that chose to borrow short term to buy non essential items).

    Almost slightly avoiding your advice, and sounding a touch patronising, I do think it reinforces, to a point, that it the developed West that are too often shackled by opportunities, rather that the Kakuma who are freed by the lack of them. However, your great leveling comment about wrestling with the same lifestyle choices we do, is a very powerful and illuminating sketch of human nature – great piece, thank you.

  2. Thank you Chris, that’s a helpful reflection. You are right and from here you can examine a whole bunch of issues about the responsibilities that accompany opportunity and how they can be neglected or embraced. Looking at the level of personal borrowing versus per-capita income there is evidence to support the view that British men are indeed feckless gamblers (with their children’s futures) and reckless borrowers (to the detriment of their families’ unity). Given that statement taken from, I confess, received wisdom, you have forced my hand to undertake research. From the ‘Financlial Inclusion Center’ report, Debt and Household incomes we learn:

    “Growth in total personal debt has stalled and
    indeed fallen slightly since the peak in January
    2010. However, debt as a proportion of household
    incomes is set to rise if the official forecaster the
    Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is right in its
    projections. The OBR is projecting total personal
    debt to rise from the current level equal to 160%
    of household incomes to 175% of household
    incomes by 2015.”

    And this I would submit is one of the crux issues that contributes to the problems we face in society. If both parents are out working then whose caring for and teaching the their children?:

    “Moreover, a survey published in 2011 suggests
    11.3 million UK households (44%) are dependent
    on more than one salary to cover bills, and of
    the 6.6 million UK households with dependent
    children, four million are reliant on two or more
    salaries (60%). It would seem reasonable to
    assume that many lower-medium and medium
    income households’ incomes have been keeping
    their heads above water as a result of having two
    salaries to rely on. If the household loses one of
    these salaries, this could have a disproportionate
    impact given the level of outstanding debts to
    be repaid.”

    The report has interesting case studies and analysis. It identifies whose vulnerable and as usual it is the least well off who are at highest risk, however, it provdes no insight into causes.

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