A Week in East Africa with OSUN

Traveling alone to Africa felt like a daunting adventure. However, the experience turned out fantastic, extraordinary, and most importantly, eye-opening. It took over 15 hours to get from my home country, Myanmar to Nairobi, Kenya. I had to take three transits from Yangon Airport to Kuala Lumpur to Doha to my final destination, Nairobi. On our way from Nairobi to Kakuma, it took almost one and a half hours to drive. The weather was humid and I noticed my skin was getting dry as quickly as I got outside the car. Then, we dropped off our belongings at the hotel and prepared for our first day of the summit in the Kakuma Camp. Despite the fatigue of not getting enough sleep, I was enjoying a new experience and grateful to be there with fellow excellent students, faculties, and staff across the OSUN Network. 

My first impression of the students of Kakuma Refugee Camp on the first day of the summit was simply ‘wow’. They are incredibly smart and excellent in articulating their ideas and thoughts. Moreover, they have thought-provoking questions that make our conversation engaging. I already inspired them even on the first day. At the same time, I was amazed by OSUN’s ability and commitment to reach out to those outstanding students in the camps to get access to quality education and other resources that can empower their inspiration for their community. I learnt their motivations to get started with their civic initiatives within the camp to empower their fellows, which created the domino effect of sparking inspiration within me. 

On the second day of the summit, I had the opportunity to be a student presenter and one of the panelists to talk about the mobility and immobility issues of my country and community. Frankly speaking, it was never-wrecking to speak to different groups of people simultaneously both online and offline even though that was not my first time talking to a big group. Despite this tension and nervousness, I managed to deliver my presentation well and addressed some of the

critical questions from the participants. Myanmar is lagging behind even within ASEAN countries due to the social, political and economic crisis after the military coup and one of the most vulnerable communities are refugees, and immigrants across borders. This is why I decided to share this major concern of migration issues after the coup with peer fellows and professors. After my panel discussion, there were two more presentations from other institutions. One of the presentation’s topics was very intriguing. It brought up the artistic project called ‘artolution’ that creates a safe space for Rohingya populations to express their pain, hope, inspiration and resilience through arts. This is a really forward-thinking idea of using art-making as a tool for communities to share their stories. 

The third day of the summit was also filled with different key panels and research presentations. One of the faculties raised an issue of climate refugees whose occupation is sex workers. These intersectional identities make the problem more challenging to solve when the government is reluctant to help those in need just because they think sex workers do not deserve much attention and support. These women face triple difficulties as refugees, women, and sex workers. A session that resonated with me was the project pitch by students from Kakuma camp, where they presented their civic engagement projects addressing early pregnancy and food insecurity within the center. Seeing the students in the camp being the profound student leaders for their community touched my heart and allowed me to visualize this happening for potential youths yet neglected in my country that bears decades of conflicts with restricted opportunities to realize their potential. 

After having long days, I fancy trying different delicious foods from Kakuma, which are often generously portioned. The specialties I enjoyed the most were blended cuisine of African and Indian flavors. Chicken Byranni and Samosa were the top choices for me because we had

similar cuisines back home. On the last day of the summit, we visited the initiative that provides entrepreneurship and digital skills training to youths in refugee camps. Their mission is to provide students and youths with job-ready skills to prepare for the competitive labor market and land their preferred careers. What impressed me the most was their successful effort to balance the gender ratio among program participants, resulting in nearly equal numbers of 1,000 graduated men and women. 

The last day brought bittersweet feelings. I feel like I have accomplished a significant milestone in my life but saying goodbye to my newly nice friends I met at Kakuma was hard. Before leaving, I visited National Park at Nairobi to closely see the giraffes, lions, ostriches, and other captivating wildlife. That sounds like a dream, but it was real. Before I realized it, I found myself back at Yangon International Airport. In a single word, I would describe this journey as ‘fulfilling’.