Livelihood Program Coordinator Amar Ibrahim Fights for Gender-Inclusive Work Opportunities in Kakuma Refugee Camp
Posted 3 September 2020
By Delaney Wehn
Amar Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Livelihood Program for Resilience Action International (RAI) in Kakuma refugee camp, knows firsthand just how important education is on the path to employment. In 2018, Amar had the good luck of securing an English Trainer position with Resilience Action International just two days after inquiring about the job. However, as Roman philosopher Seneca famously said, luck is where opportunity meets preparation, and Amar was certainly well-prepared.
Beyond his high school certificate, Amar had two additional university degrees upon joining the RAI team. The first was a diploma in Human Resources from The University of Eldorat, which took two and a half years to complete. Then in 2016, he progressed to the Jeremogi oginga odinga University of Science and Technology to pursue his Bachelor of Business Administration with Information Communications Technology. He also had former experience teaching English at Windle Trust Kenya. These qualifications led to his admittance to RAI’s staff after he completed the in-person panel interview in English.
As illustrated by Amar’s story, having a formal education, prior work experience and strong English skills is often the catalyst that propels one toward a future of economic empowerment in Kakuma refugee camp. It is because of this reality that Resilience Action International works diligently to ensure the youth of Kakuma refugee camp have the skills and resources needed to build careers for themselves in the most fragile of settings.
Today, Amar heads the Education for Productive Livelihood Program that in his own words works “to improve the income of the youth in Kakuma camp by increasing employment opportunities among refugee youth, through high quality, market-based technical education and soft skills.” Specifically, job training courses are offered in Small Business Startup, Tailoring, and Information Communication Technology (ICT).
RAI also continues to support its course graduates long after they leave the program. For example, Amar shared that he spends a portion of his time daily checking in with prior students to ensure they are on track to reach economic independence. After students complete the four-month Small Business Startup course, RAI’s team refers the graduates to partner organizations that promote internships to help them gain preliminary work experience. “Through establishing that connection some of them get employed,” Amar said, adding that “we do follow up through group projects for those that do not get employed. We want to make sure the youth aren’t idle at all.”
The student success stories that stem from these programs are truly inspiring. For example, one student opened a successful wholesale business following his completion of the course, and he now contributes to RAI’s mission by serving as a mentor. Another student, Omar, has built a capacity building business in keeping records and coordinating bookkeeping for other business operators in the camp. Using the entrepreneurship skills he learned in RAI’s Small Business Startup course, he expanded his income by running trainings for business people on how to keep the records of their business activities. “We also have some who have become teachers, and they are teaching in primary schools,” added Amar.
Unfortunately, underlying circumstances make reaching true economic independence more difficult for women enrolled in the program. Further inspection of the individual course enrollment data helps paint a picture of why this disparity might exist. For example, the Tailoring course has 35 students enrolled, just 65 percent of which are female. In contrast, the Small Business Startup course has 30 students, just 17 percent of which are female.
(Female students in Resilience Actions International's Tailoring course)
The gender gap in course enrollment stems from a variety of factors. For one, Amar says females rarely apply to the entrepreneurship course. Amar mentioned that the course leaders are striving to increase female enrollment in the entrepreneurship program to achieve gender parity, “But, the problem of that class is that most of them fear the class because the training is in a high level of English.”
A second underlying cause of this low female engagement rate in the Small Business Startup course is that many of the female in Kakuma refugee camp are primary caregivers for their children. Program leaders such as Amar have found that a profession in Tailoring is a fantastic way for a woman to make money from home while still caring for her children. Customers simply place orders, and the women can make dresses from home using personal machines, providing them with personal income. While the Tailoring course offers participants with a fantastically convenient method of earning money, the Small Business Startup course offers the women an unmatched level of independence in working outside the home.
“We realize that most of the vulnerable people in the camp are women,” Amar said, and as a result he and his team are working tirelessly to ensure that women are given as many opportunities as possible to achieve their own economic empowerment. It is the hope that more females will attend courses offered by RAI, such as the Small Business Startup course, thus emerging as entrepreneurs from the ranks of Kakuma refugee camp in the near future.
Please consider donating today at https://www.resilienceaction.net/donate to support RAI in its efforts to help Kakuma youth reach economic empowerment.