Bridging Worlds: Academic Conference Unites Students from Kakuma Refugee Camp and Beyond

Christian Baobab Mukanirwa

In the heart of the Kakuma refugee camp, a transformative event took place recently, where education transcended traditional boundaries, providing youth with a unique opportunity to engage with the global academic community. The Open Society University Network (OSUN) Summit on Mobility and Immobility became a platform for the young refugees in Kakuma to connect with international students, fostering cultural exchange, and delving into thought-provoking discussions on cultural heritage, human rights, student advocacy, and, most notably, student-led civic engagement initiatives.


For the students in Kakuma refugee camp, this event marked their inaugural experience of an academic conference. The sessions were moderated by students from the OSUN Hubs for Connected Learning Initiatives, a prospect initially met with trepidation. Many of the students found themselves moderating a panel for the first time in their lives, a testament to their resilience and determination. Their participation in the summit was an honor as they assumed leadership roles alongside esteemed guest speakers and panelists from over 13 universities worldwide.


As one of the students from the Hubs who also served as moderators, I had the privilege of facilitating a discussion with first-time filmmakers from Kakuma refugee camp. The filmmakers shared their journey of creating a film that shed light on the stories of humanitarian workers in Kakuma. With experience working with humanitarian agencies both inside and outside the camp, the filmmakers understood the struggles faced by young refugees seeking meaningful employment, especially as translators. These challenges included inadequate pay, the weight of personal traumas, and the emotional toll of translating the stories of fellow refugees to humanitarian workers. The absence of mental health and psychosocial support compounded the difficulties, highlighting the core challenges of life as a refugee in a camp.


The Summit represented a significant learning opportunity for both the students from the Kakuma refugee camp and their counterparts from other OSUN Network universities. It encouraged networking, collaboration, and the celebration of cultural diversity. These interactions allowed students to appreciate the diverse perspectives and experiences brought by their peers from Kakuma, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. 


The significance of this summit extended beyond the academic exchange; it underscored the importance of inclusivity and representation for marginalized groups like refugees. Due to their lack of proper documentation, many refugees are unable to travel freely, limiting their ability to participate in conferences elsewhere. By bringing such experiences to the refugee camp, these young individuals had the chance to showcase their skills and strengths to a broader audience. In doing so, they shattered stereotypes and offered a different narrative, one of resilience and determination.


In addition to the camp’s students gaining a newfound perspective on the outside world, students from universities beyond the camp had the opportunity to grasp the harsh realities of life as a refugee. This firsthand experience allowed them to understand the lives of refugees in a way that textbooks and documentaries could never convey. As they listened to the stories of their Kakuma peers, they became more than just passive observers; they became advocates for change.


The OSUN Summit on Mobility and Immobility was more than just an academic conference; it was a bridge between two worlds. It facilitated an exchange of ideas, experiences, and emotions, fostering a spirit of collaboration and empathy. The event exemplified how education can transcend physical barriers, bringing together students from diverse backgrounds to create a more inclusive and compassionate world. The success of this summit highlights the potential for more such conferences and summits that connect students from marginalized groups with the broader academic community. These events can empower young refugees by providing them with opportunities for networking and personal development while dispelling myths and misconceptions about their lives. Ultimately, they offer hope and encouragement to individuals who have faced unimaginable challenges, showing them that they are not defined by their circumstances but by their resilience and aspirations.