World's first TEDx event at a refugee camp held at Kakuma Camp

Wednesday March 18 2020

Governor Josphat Nanok (right) chats with former US Ambassador Robert Godec (left) and musician Octopizzo during the TEDx Talk at Kakuma Camp. PHOTO| FRANCIS NDERITU


History was made on June 9 when Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana county hosted the world’s first TEDx event to be held in a refugee camp.

The event showcased the stories of resilience and creativity of former refugees who had either been born or grew up in refugee camps. They had risen to become poets, film-maker, models and teachers. Their stories of overcoming the status quo and building a solid life through suffering inspired the global audience immeasurably.

Some of the speakers included Mercy Aukot who is a Sudanese social worker; 23-year-old Pur Biel, a Sudanese runner who participated in the Refugee Olympic team in 2016 as well as award-winning Congolese film-maker, Aminah Rwimo among others.


Halima Aden, the first ever hijab-wearing model in the world of fashion, also graced the event.

“I have so many memories and they just keep coming back because I had a turn of freedom back then. I remember how I felt with my friends and just going out for almost the whole day and running back home in time for supper or diner. It is nothing major but the small things remind me how it was being a child here,” a beaming Halima said.

During her talk, she was proud to say that a lot of girls, not just Muslims or refugees, follow her journey.


Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the UN's refugee agency, the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) and one of the curator of TEDx Kakuma Camp, said the event was the “most logistically challenging, but also one of the most moving staged by the TED organisation.”

“Most people around the world now think that Europeans, Australians and Americans are the ones who are welcoming refugees yet to be frank, 85 per cent are in countries like Kenya and other third world countries and are yet invisible,” she said.

According to Ms Fleming, she hoped that the event would inspire everyone who has talent and ideas, regardless of where they came from, to put them on as powerful a stage as the TED stage.

“We wanted refugee speakers to use this platform to tell the world not just what they have gone through, but also show that they too have amazing things to offer.”

Head of Sub-Office, UNHCR Kakuma Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu said that it was a pleasure organizing the TEDx event and providing a global platform for people to share their stories.

“I would like to thank both the national and county government for their inclusivity in what they do in this region,” he said.

The Governor of Turkana County, Josphat Nanok echoed Mr Sukru’s sentiments. He added that a study by International Financial Organisation (IFC) had revealed that Kakuma camp and the surrounding area has a market place of over Sh5.6 billion ($56million).

“This is evident that the refugee programme can be more of an economic and humanitarian programmes that seeks to utilise economic potential of refugee presence in the county,” Governor Nanok said.

The Kakuma camp was set up in 1992, initially to take in Sudanese refugees. It is now hosting about 185,000 people who have fled war or persecution from 19 African countries. It is ranked among the world’s largest refugees camp.