The Skills for Life project has in the past been carried through in three phases. The first pilot phase was implemented from 2013 to 2015 and was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Swisscontact took up the role of lead implementor in close collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). As a result of the great impact the project made during the pilot phase, a 1-year extension was given which saw the project activities proceed until 2016.
The second phase, fully funded by SDC, was implemented by Swisscontact from 2016 and was executed until 2019. An additional third phase was implemented until the end of 2022.
The Kakuma Refugee Camp was established in 1992 after the civil war broke out in the then Sudan. It has since expanded to serve refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda. Located in Turkana County, the North-Western region of Kenya, 120 kilometres from Lodwar and 109 kilometres from the Lokichoggio Kenya-Sudan border, the camp has become a refuge of hope for several refugees and asylum-seekers.
With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity which led to numerous deliberations and a final decision to allocate additional land to form the Kalobeyei integrated settlement, located 20 km from Kakuma town. The local Kenyan population who reside in Turkana County largely comprise nomadic pastoralists from the Turkana community. Due to the recurring conflicts and other socio-economic constraints, they have limited access to educational services and even fewer opportunities for post-primary or alternative youth education. According to the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development (KISEDP) report, Turkana West inhabitants comprised approximately 186,000 refugees and 320,000 from the host population (as of November 2018). This indicates that the refugee population within the camp and settlement is growing and quickly reaching that of the host community. A recent briefing kit compiled by the United Nations refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in May 2019 indicated that there were 188,794 refugees (from 22 different nationalities) hosted at Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement. 5% of these have access to electricity while 69% access the internet using smartphones.
Turkana County has one of the lowest indicators of economic and social development in Kenya, with youth and women being the most affected. Due to their abrupt migration, legal situation, local environmental conditions, low and unmatched skills, limited access to financial services necessitated by language barriers, lack of credit history and low literacy levels, refugees are largely unable to support themselves with income-generating activities. The restrictions on employment also deter refugees from job searching. Once admitted into the camp or settlement, refugees do not have the freedom to move around the country and if need be, are required to obtain movement passes from the UNHCR and Kenyan Government. This limits their exposure to opportunities in education and employment which would have essentially assisted them to improve their chances of a better livelihood.
The Skills for Life project sought to catalyse systemic change in skills development and employment creation by facilitating flexible, low-cost, market-oriented and competency-based skills training, which serve to create pathways to decent employment for the youth.
The project targeted youth aged between 16 and 25 years from both the refugee and the host community. Adolescent girls and young mothers were encouraged to participate because they are more vulnerable to the livelihood challenges than men.
The project used the learning group model to deliver non-formal technical skills training which was complemented by structured apprenticeships, life skills training and business development support. This provided the youth with well-rounded skills that improve their competitiveness as they transition into the local labour market.
During the pilot phase, the project aimed to strengthen the income-generating capabilities of the refugee youth and the host community in Kakuma through enhanced technical, financial, life and literacy skills for improved livelihoods. The second phase sought to increase the income-generating capabilities of the refugees and the host community (50% women) within Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement.
The Skills for Life project applied a unique learning group approach geared at tapping into the economic potential of the youth by providing relevant skill sets. The project was implemented as below:
Awareness and Mobilization
A deliberate awareness drive steered by the Community-Based Trainers (CBTs) was carried out within the host community environs and the refugee camp. The CBTs are men and women selected by the project who live within the community i.e. amongst the hosts and the refugees. They are supported by the community leaders and the local faith-based institutions to increase awareness. Mass awareness campaign initiatives were achieved through different channels such as radio announcements, posters pinned up on public noticeboards and announcements in public and social forums. The project also worked in close collaboration with the Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) and Non – Governmental Organisations (NGOs) based within the community to disseminate information related to the planned training sessions. All these efforts improve the overall participation of youth in the training sessions who acquire market-oriented skills that ultimately improve income generation and boost self-reliance.
Career Guidance and Counselling
The youth were urged to attend career guidance and counselling to ensure they identify a skill set they are interested in and one they will fully maximise on. The sessions enlightened attendees on the different training opportunities available and on the key areas to pay attention to when choosing a professional field. These sessions were facilitated by the Project Assistants who were supported by the Technical Skills Coordinator.
The youth were taken through a list of thought-provoking questions to encourage self-reflection so that their final selection would be genuinely based on their interests. Some of the questions asked during these sessions included:
Female participants were encouraged to be open-minded and avoid limiting themselves to traditional professions like bakery, tailoring, beadwork, hairdressing and beauty. Individual counselling sessions were offered and held for those in need of more detailed guidance.
Learning Group Formation
Once the youth chose their preferred skill set, Learning Groups (LGs) of up to 20 future participants were formed. The learning groups were homogenous, self-selected, self-managed and comprise of people with similar interests. Moderated by their future Community-Based Trainer(s), the participants defined their training schedule; ensuring it was feasible for the majority of the participants. Consideration was given to the needs of the young mothers who needed to be able to attend to their daily duties and the training, too. Once this rather intensive process was complete, the learning groups were ready to start their training.
Technical and Soft Skills Training
The youth went through three months of training in their learning groups with the sessions mainly focused on technical and soft skills. In most cases, the sessions placed more emphasis on practical lessons rather than theoretical ones.
The training sessions were also used to form future business groups. The business groups comprised of 5 to 10 members and were intended for those not interested, self-confident or financially stable enough to open their own business or go into wage employment. Additionally, informal savings and lending groups, commonly known as Mavuno Groups, were established within the same time frame to encourage saving. The trainees started saving consistently during their training period; putting aside income generated after selling their products or offering their services. For instance, the bakery groups saved a portion of the money collected from the daily sale of cakes made during their practical training session.
During the pilot phase, the project conducted a basic market analysis to define key trades for skills training and adopted curricula from a successful skills development project implemented by Swisscontact in Uganda. A total of 12 technical training courses were delivered which include; agriculture, blacksmith, computer repair, bakery, jewellery/beadwork, hairdressing and beauty, laundry, masonry, phone repair, weaving, waste management and tailoring.
Following recommendations from the pilot phase, a needs assessment and a labour markets analysis was carried out to identify the local market opportunities and determine the profitable sectors that would create opportunities by empowering the trainees to immediately generate income. 24 market-driven trades were identified with only 19 trades applied based on their relevance, selection by the prospective learners and cost effectiveness. These included barbery, bakery, beadwork/jewellery, catering, carpentry, computer repair and maintenance, electrical wiring and installation, electronics repair, detergent/ soap making, hairdressing, horticulture, motor vehicle mechanics, motorcycle repair, phone repair, plumbing, poultry, screen printing, tailoring and weaving.
Business Group Coaching
After the training, the business group members set up their businesses with assistance from the project and were supported for the first 12 months based on their needs. Some supportive initiatives the project undertook included business group coaching and mentorship sessions, facilitating business registration through permits and licenses and initiating linkages to financial institutions and organizations offering specialized business support. In exchange, the project received financial data for monitoring on a monthly basis.
In April 2017, a digital intervention on literacy and numeracy was implemented by the project in partnership with Avallain Foundation. The a-ACADEMY Basic Skills digital portal was applied to test the effectiveness of the provision of literacy and numeracy training as a key skill among blended learning in the 21st century. The basic literacy and numeracy module targets both members of the refugee and the host community with low or no literacy skills and allows them to gain basic arithmetic and reading skills which they need in their daily interactions. It was an elective course that was taken before or after the daily core training sessions.
The portal applies a pedagogical approach and uses storytelling as an element of adult literacy training; enabling learners to make use of their already existing knowledge.
The platform is packed with engaging and interactive activities that encompass various multimedia elements like a localized curriculum, local currency visuals, local food and locations, animations and other carefully curated and tailormade images and audios that are familiar to the learners. The modules are available both online and offline, which is an added advantage as internet access and connectivity within the camp is normally erratic. Learners who access the portal offline have their records backed up and once internet connectivity has been restored, their progress is uploaded for further synthesis and analysis. This unique feature allowed the project to easily gauge the progress of the learners.
The project was implemented in partnership with several stakeholders who provided technical and financial support to effectively deliver various aspects of the project.
The local Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) were supported in implementing project activities in the areas they work and are familiar with. This was a crucial part in the project replication strategy due to their increased sense of ownership. A replication success example would, for instance, be the continuous growth of mavuno groups in the community; involving even members who have not directly benefited from the project or gone through any skill set training.
Partnering with the National and County Government and Non-Governmental Organizations has encouraged an upgrade in skills and efficient transition of the project beneficiaries into entrepreneurship. The cordial relationship maintained by these stakeholders has encouraged referrals and linkages with other institutions working outside the project coverage area.
Integrating both the host community and the refugees in the project implementation is vital as it not only gives the refugees a sense of belonging, but the hosts also feel included in income-generating opportunities available in their land. In reality, if allowed to integrate and belong, refugees can be self-reliant and contribute socially and economically, in many cases becoming an asset to their host countries.
The individual trainee baseline data was collected at the beginning of the training. A second questionnaire was issued at the end of the 3-month training. Those who chose not to be part of the business groups and the early leavers were traced 12 months after graduation in a tracer study. Data was also recorded from mavuno group members and business groups using a questionnaire every month.
Swisscontact played an important facilitatory role during the project implementation process as it offered unique non-formal skills training which is rare in fragile contexts but very durable. Most refugees and asylum-seekers are accustomed to handouts and humanitarian aid given to them to ease the burden of displacement. This approach has created dependency and proven to be unsustainable over the years as once the donors move out, the refugees lack the skills to fend for themselves.
Swisscontact’s role included but was not limited to: