The Real Refugees of Kakuma County

By Maura Kelly

Imagine you and your family in Kenya's Kakuma camp, along with seventy thousand refugees. Dust storms darken the sky and dry out your skin and the few scraps of food that aren't sealed away. You do all you can to guard your children from malaria but can't keep them from malnourishment. Your life expectancy is less than 60 years and you won't spend one day of it free from hunger, disease and hopeless poverty. Your children have never left the camp, but then, for one day, you can take them to Oz. With the help of this week's social innovator, the hearts and imaginations of thousands of people around the world have a chance to be freed, if only for an hour or two, from the bleakness of life in a refugee camp.

This week we're profiling FilmAid International, a non-profit organization that aims to bring the healing and educating power of cinema to refugees in the most desperate situations. The organization was founded in 1999 by a group of film professionals to entertain refugees in Macedonia at the start of the war in Kosovo. They began screening movies in refugee camps to restore hope, educate and inspire those who were displaced by the war. In 2001, FilmAid expanded to support refugees from Sudan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Rwanda. In addition, they also had a program helping families in the United States left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

FilmAid's programs consist of three components. First, the organization partners with other aid agencies to provide video-based educational workshops. Sessions are held in community centers and schools throughout the camps, and involve topics relating to health, gender-based violence, conflict resolution and family planning. They also offer outdoor screenings inside the refugee camps. The films screened are typically local African films related to social, health and environmental issues. They stress positive messages that are meant to provide the viewers with tools for coping with often taboo issues. Finally, FilmAid works directly with the refugees to produce short films on the issues that affect them most. In doing so, they keep a finger on the pulse of communities and provide a forum for public dialogue.

For more on FilmAid, check out our latest show ON DEMAND.