Submitted by: Gary Butterworth, VOA Refugee Program Manager
Email: [email protected]
The video of the Town Hall can be found at the bottom of this page.
Introduction to the project
Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
Voices Of America (VOA) built a temporary television studio with audience seating in Kenya’s Kakuma camp to provide a forum for refugees to address stakeholders about energy needs.
The Kakuma camp is bringing an influx of people into Kenya’s remote and impoverished Turkana County. This forum brought attention to the energy situation in the camp as well as its context in the larger region, as a member of the local government was featured.
Additionally, Washington-based Voice Of America contracted with two host-country firms to provide technical services for this event. More than 20 Kenyan citizens received paying work for their significant contribution to this event. This figure does not include support personnel such as drivers and caterers. These contracts provided Kenyan private-sector firms with good business and enabled their Nairobi-based employees to see tangible financial gain from their country’s decision to host refugee populations.
The town hall discussion forum was modeled on a traditional American forum in which elected officials are questioned directly by their constituents in open public meetings. Though residents of the Kakuma camp lack elected representatives to question, humanitarian workers serve a quasi-governmental role. By presenting camp residents with the opportunity to speak directly to those who hold positions of authority, VOA provided a pseudo-democratic experience to camp residents who had little prior experience living under accountable governments. This builds skills in active citizenship that residents may one day have the opportunity to exercise through self-governance and/or in their country of origin.
Prominent European NGOs were present on stage at the event and included humanitarians who are working hard on energy issues in a global context.
The production team was American and modeled its forum on those used to vet political candidates. Lastly, the discussion was broadcast internationally on VOA’s global satellite network to ensure that the situation in Kakuma retains its place in the global conversation.
Voice of America sought to provide refugees with a forum to critically question individuals in positions of relative power on energy issues relevant to their daily lives in the Kakuma camp.
For more than 75 years, VOA has been a leading source of accurate and unbiased news. Currently broadcasting in 47 different languages, we have developed a large following in regions where colonial languages are not dominant. With residents from approximately 20 countries, Kakuma camp contains one of our most diverse audiences, with listeners following many VOA language services. We sought to engage with this audience directly, but not in ways that were stereotypical of their situation as refugees. We noted that energy needs were a concern to camp residents, as they are many permanently-settled populations.
We also noted that refugees generally lack experience living under accessible and accountable governments. We concluded that a town hall forum would give our audience the valuable experience of speaking directly to those whose decisions affect their lives.
In the last few years, VOA has hosted successful town hall discussion forums in Washington and Mogadishu. We have funds to conduct a small number of these events per year, and we had recently become acquainted with the Moving Energy Initiative, which sought to partner. We decided that a televised town hall in Kakuma about energy was the right forum for the right topic in the right place.
- Moving Energy Initiative
- Chatham House UK
- UNHCR Kakuma
- Kenya Refugee Affairs Secretariat
- Several NGOs provided panelists
How challenges were overcome
Building a temporary television studio in a refugee camp in rural Kenya is a challenging proposition, both for logistical and bureaucratic reasons. Appropriately, given the topic of the program, even the electricity needed to power our television equipment was not available locally!
In order to overcome this challenge, VOA contracted with two Nairobi-based host-country firms to provide construction of temporary physical and technical facilities. Notably, they brought in generators to power the television equipment. Their local knowledge was vital to this project.
UNHCR was also generous in working with us. Their recent experience in facilitating the TedXKakumaCamp speaker series demonstrated their commitment to providing the camp residents with intellectually stimulating content, while also informing them of the logistics necessary for a video production.
Results of the Good Practice
- Humanitarian energy needs received international attention through satellite coverage of this event.
- Kakuma Refugee Camp residents gained experience interacting directly with perceived authority figures in a televised format.
- The host of the discussion was a former Kakuma resident who has resettled in the U.S. and become a television personality. This provided an aspirational figure to the attendees.
- VOA was inspired to ensure better coverage of refugee issues and better distribution of its news content within refugee camps. Two individuals have been hired to full-time positions for this effort.
- More than 20 host-country nationals received paid work for approximately one week.
While this project is finished, its legacy lives on. VOA remains committed to the Town Hall forum concept, and staff has recently been hired to work specifically on refugee issues. Planning is in progress to replicate project with similar events in the Spring of 2020 (topic TBD) and a possible event around the November 2020 U.S. Presidential election in which migration and refugee policy are expected to be major issues.