Standing Tall Man
Behold a stern, sober-looking man who is engaged in unsolicited acts of humanitarianism. I met him in northwest Kenya while visiting the Kakuma refugee area recently. Among the incredible things UNHCR staff members showed us was a project between locals and refugees.
Local residents, who have survived for centuries as traditional herders are changing things up a bit. They have agreed to let people from Kakuma (many of them farmers) grow produce on some of their traditional lands. The produce provides a badly needed source of food and income to the refugee farmers, and the herders are learning to grow gardens to help feed their own families.
In the past, they may have been victims of a zero-sum mentality, which told one side to fight any intrusion on territorial lands and told the other that it must take over that land to survive. The projects are small in size but sometimes that is how real change happens, local people cooperating by doing what seems like the best thing for them to survive.
UN funds purchased a foot operated pump to irrigate the plots. UN staff helped get the program up and running. Unfortunately, the funding, meager as it is, faces being cut.
Refugees Are Not a Burden
Perhaps what struck me the most was the attitude and insight people have shown, at all levels.
The view that refugees and immigrants are not a burden so much as they are an asset. They are a burden if you do not allow them to live a more or less normal life, to find a job or start a business, to send kids to school, have a modicum of medical assistance and some peace and security.
If you do not allow them to do the above, they have no choice but to be a burden.
By allowing them to get work, start businesses, attend school, and integrate into the local area, you turn a potential burden into a potential asset. In Kakuma refugee shops, service providers and workers contribute to the local and national economy by paying taxes, purchasing goods and services, and contributing to the national pool of skilled and intelligent labor. Yes, skilled and intelligent.
The schools at Kakuma are bursting at the seams with eager students, many of whom are now going on to higher education both in Kenya and internationally. Somebody with a job and a way out seldom becomes a criminal.
Let’s Give Refugees in America The Same Opportunities
America would do well to remember, that is how most of our families got started. Not too many of us came to America already wealthy, fat and happy. We earned it generation after generation. Others deserve that same opportunity.
I wonder, did Trump and Putin discuss that in Helsinki? Guess we will never know.