Over the last seven years, Scouting has been providing life changing opportunities, hope and a sense of belonging to thousands of children and young people at the Dadaab refugee Camp in Garissa County, Kenya. The Scouting for Refugees programme run by the Kenya Scouts Association with the support of AVSI Foundation that is funded by U.S. State Department, has continued to empower young refugees through education, skills development, community service and citizenship activities.

 According to UNHCR, the Dadaab Refugee Complex has four camps in namely; Dagahaley, Ifo, Ifo 2 and Hagadera with a total population of 211,701 registered refugees and asylum seekers as of May 2019. The numbers have reduced from about 570,000 due to the voluntary repatriation programme introduced in the last few years. The camp was first established in 1991, when refugees fleeing the civil war in Somalia started to cross the border into Kenya. A second large influx occurred in 2011, when nearly 130,000 refugees arrived, fleeing drought and famine in southern Somalia. The inhabitants of the camp are drawn from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The economy of Daadab is estimated at ten times more than that of the seven northern frontier counties combined.

 As an educational movement for young people, Scouting has a mission to contribute to the empowerment of young people to play a constructive role in society. It is this mission that guided Kenya Scouts Association and its partners to support UNHCR and other agencies working for protection and assistance to refugees. Through Scouting, the movement is assisting young people to learn, acquire essential skills, develop their leadership abilities and prepare them for life outside the refugee camps.

 Scouting for Refugees at Dadaab

With the escalation of war and humanitarian crises across the Horn of Africa, the Kenyan Scouts strengthened by the World Scout Conference Resolution on Humanitarian Crisis passed in Brazil in 2011, decided to increase their efforts in working with refugee children and young people. The Scouting for Refugees Programme was born out of a partnership with AVSI Foundation in 2012 and has been running at Dadaab ever since.

 Implemented in all 22 primary and secondary schools across the four camps, about 850 young people are currently benefiting from the programme with hundreds of others having transitioned through. A recent visit to four of these schools; Daidai Primary School, Friends Primary School, Ifo Secondary School in Ifo Camp and Amani primary School in Dagahaley Camp reveals just how transformative this programme continues to be. This was motivated by the fact that the camp alone has more school-going children than the average for the entire Garissa County.

At Daidai Primary School the over 50 Scouts help the school in many activities like planting trees, cleaning the compound, giving guidance and counselling to other learners and also as first aiders during games. The team also liaises with the community to bring out of school children back to school.

Head Teacher of the school, Abdisalan Aden Nur said, “Scouting normally fills the gap that the family and schools don’t fill. It complements the family and school. They learn skills which they don’t learn in school – like how to live with other people when they grow up, how to persevere, how to make their own houses and how to solve emerging problems. It really helps.”

Ahmed Shukri Abdulahi, a 15-year-old boy at Daidai who dreams of becoming a pilot says he decided to become a Scout to know about Scouting, to become disciplined always and to make others disciplined. “I like Scouting because I can help others with what Scouting has taught me… and to give my school a name,” he says.

“Since I was in fifth grade I have always wanted to be a Doctor when I finish School. Scouting helps me to be a good student and a person who doesn’t fear to stand in front of other people, to respect people by age and to understand the meaning of Scouting. As a leader I feel good because when I advise these young children to do something they usually take my advice. I would like to tell my fellow girls to join Scouting and continue to learn,” says Farhiya Ali, a 15-year-old girl at Daidai Primary.

Farhiya became a Scout because of her desire to help other people and to teach other children. She believes that boys and girls are all the same and that’s why they participate in activities together.

 Not far from Daidai is Friends Primary School where the Scouts have made their impact felt in the entire school. Entering the school gate, one is greeted by green trees whistling as the wind sways them. Planted by the Scouts two years ago, the trees offer shade and places for relaxation for the entire school.

As the name suggests, Friends Primary School is considered the friendliest school – because here Muslims and Christians from different nationalities co-exist and do Scouting together.

“Whatever activities they do, they do jointly – and that captures the very essence of Scouting. Friends Primary school is a model to the entire world, that when all the other people are fighting, in Friends people come together, stay together works together, love each other and enjoy Scouting together,” says Henry Waitindi, the Program Manager and Head of Dadaab Office for Refugee Emergency and Relief Operations and Development at AVSI Foundation who is himself a Scout Leader. In their garden they grow plantains, vegetables and fruits like pawpaw, mangoes and citrus.

One of the most unique activity done by the Scouts here is the Food for Life garden which not only serves as a learning field but also feeds the pupils and the neighboring communities, as Martha Okoth Ochala, an Ethiopian pupil at the school explains. “The reason why we plant this is for our environment to look good, and also when the fruits grow they will help us. It is of benefit for all of us. When we leave the camp the knowledge and skills will help us and we will show to the rest of the people who don’t know,” she says. The seedlings for their project were provided by AVSI Foundation and the skills to grow and care for the plants instilled by their Scout Leader and teacher, Mr. Nour who was also one of the pioneer Scouts in the camp.

 Ifo Secondary School bears evidence of the journey Scouting in Dadaab has travelled. This is epitomized in the story of 20-year-old Aden Salat Hussein, a form three student at the School. Aden is one of the first group of Scouts to be recruited at Dadaab back in 2012. Today, he has grown into a responsible young man who not only passionately leads in Scouts Troop at school but also takes home and practices the many lessons he has learned over the years.

 Aden who recently attended the “Humanitarian Action and Peace Building Training on Addressing Refugee Crisis and Violent Extremism among Young People in Kenya” organized by the Kenya Scouts Association in Nairobi owes a lot of what he has learnt and his position as Camp Youth Leader to Scouting. “I joined Scouting when I was in fifth grade (13 years old) and I have seen the value of Scouting. Scouting really teaches me a lot of things – how to respect others, how to help my community through volunteering, how to be kind to every person and how to interact with other people from different communities,” he says. Aden is out to tell people in the camp about Scouting – that it is a youth movement that helps the community. That Scouts are messengers of peace – not soldiers.

 “I felt very proud when I was elected to be a youth leader. It is Scouting that made me to be in that position. My vision is to tell the people of Dadaab the value of Scouting. The message I want to share with people is that, Scouting brings hope and life-changing opportunities to young people in Dadaab,” he adds.

As a Scout group, the students at Ifo Secondary School engage in agriculture where the plant okra and other vegetables. Tree planting, which is done across all Scout groups in the camps, also goes on here and the results are evident. The trees provide shade that protects the entire school from the scotching heat of the sun in the semi-arid area whose temperatures range between 38 and 41 degrees Celsius.

Ifo Secondary School is also one of the few schools that incorporate students with special needs into the Scout programme as their teacher and Scout Laeder, Ms. Nancy Alila explains. “We make sure they also feel part of being a Scout. We organize many activities for them – they can now know how to plant crops, they know how to take care of the environment, they are responsible leaders,” she says.

 The greatest challenge faced in establishing Scouting here however was the resistance from the community and the cultural practices that inhibited certain activities, especially among girls. As a result of many years of persuasion, advocacy and awareness by the Scouts, this is however changing.

“Girls are now a little bit aggressive, they can stand for what is right. They take part in activities together with the boys. They are preparing themselves for the future responsibilities and in this am able to see many girls being prefects in the school because of the mentorship we give to them,” says Ms. Alila. 

 This is confirmed by a young Form Three girl of South Sudanese descent. “I love Scouting because Scouting made me a better person. I learnt many things about being a Scout and going camping. I would advise my fellow girls in the camp to join the Scouts. Being a Scout is something that is good and that can help you,” she says.

At Amani Primary School in Hagadera, Scouts have successfully managed to bring back to school 30 young people who had dropped out of school. They also do many other things such as maintaining security of the school, solving pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher conflicts, promoting hygiene, cleaning the school and planting trees.

 “As Scout, we cooperate with the teachers. We also participate in cleaning activities at school because a Scout must be clean and neat. We have improved cooperation among the students. For example in guiding and counselling; when a student fights with a teacher we advise them not to fight the teacher because a teacher is your ‘second parent’. Those children who have repatriated and came back, we advise them to come to school – now we have 30 here,” says the Patrol Leader.

Nasra Ahmed, a Chipukizi (Junior) Scout at the school says that Scouts always teach the students to interact with each other, to join and to live with people from different communities. She further reckons that in terms of hygiene, a person who is a Scout must be neat and clean always.

“Sometimes when a girl faints, we come and take her to the nurse. We always tell girls who steal things to stop. We tell the community not to cut trees, to maintain cleanliness and to not discriminate against anybody so that we’re going to be united. When there is a conflict between the teachers and the students we might come in as Scouts and solve the problem. There are some girls who drop out of school because of sanitary towels but we get them to come back to school because we’re the people who are supposed to help them. If they need sanitary towels we tell the teacher and bring for them,” says a confident Nasra.

 The Deputy Headteacher who also serves as Scout Leader, recognizes the many roles played by the Scouts in the School as he invites one of the boys, Hassan Abdullahi, whom the Scouts have brought back to school to share his story.

“I dropped out of Umoja Primary School. The Patron of the Scouts advised and encouraged me that education is very important and that there is a team of Scouts at Amani Primary School who are good counsellors and can help me. I came here with the guidance of the Scout Patron and I have adapted to the environment well with the help of the Scouts and I am now the Head Boy of this school. I really appreciate it,” confesses Abdullahi.

Preparing them for Life after the Camp

Despite the many challenges they go through, the Scouts in Dadaab are not deterred from the learning opportunity the movement offers to them. With bravery and great cheer they face and deal with the tough conditions of life in the camps with the hope for better days ahead. To them, being a refugee is not a limit. They see themselves as not being any different from other people all over the world, save for the fact that their movements are minimized. Through the Scout through training and mentorship they are getting ready for life after the camp.

Haron Kamau, the Deputy County Commissioner, Dadaab Sub County who is the representative of the National Government of Kenya in Dadaab recognizes the role played by Scouting in supporting children from both the host community as well as refugees. “The Scout movement is one of the few avenues we have through which we can use to instill discipline in the young ones, and to nurture them to a level that whenever they get leadership positions in their countries they will do well. I wish more refugee students could take up the Scout movement. As a government we are ready to facilitate and support organized Student groups,” he says.

 Scouting is building leaders who can stand for their communities. “There is something else I see that probably you don’t see – I see that Scouting is building a lot of great leaders in this school and you’re one of them… I encourage you to keep your leadership, not only to look for resources to develop your community, but also to try to develop resources from whatever means you have to start because Scouts we do that also. We do not look at our own needs, but we also look at the needs of people living around us and we try to bring whatever we can bring to them,” says Brunel Etienne, Manager Humanitarian Action at the World Scout Bureau Global Support Centre, Kuala Lumpur to a young Scout at Amani Primary School.

Volunteers and Partners Supporting Scouting

Henry Waitindi, the Program Manager and Head of Dadaab Office for Refugee Emergency and Relief Operations and Development at AVSI Foundation, a Scout Leader himself, describes AVSI’s mission in development work a having a preferential focus on education, meaning that the person is accompanied towards self-discovery and recognition that the other person is a resource. Their projects are conceived as instruments to promote this awareness in everyone involved and creates an impact capable of generating a positive change. “As AVSI we are keen of youth development and this is a tenet we share with the Scout movement – that is why we have continued to support Scouting activities here at Dadaaab,” he adds.

Henry works with a team of Scout Leaders (male and female) who volunteer their time, knowledge and skills to train these children and young people. Every three months Dixon Omondi a Scout Leader from Nakuru and his team of six others take a journey of over 630 kilometers to spend 2 weeks at Dadaab conducting training and organizing camps and community service activities for refugee Scouts. This is a journey Dixon has faithfully taken since 2012.

“I am very encouraged by students from the refugee community. Those who have attended the training appreciate the value they get. Many have graduated and are returning to contribute to the development of Scouting in the camps but also their countries for those who have repatriated. This is very fulfilling to me as a volunteer,” says Dixon. “It has not been an easy journey. We faced a lot of resistance from the community and we had to do a lot to break the cultural and gender barriers to successfully implement Scouting here. Today when I see Scouts like Aden whom I have been with for seven years now, I feel very satisfied with the contribution we have made to the lives of these children,” he adds.

Nancy Alila, a Teacher and Scout Leader at Ifo Secondary School passionately narrates her experience saying that, “I do this because I have grown up as a girl Scout – I started on as a Sungura (cub). I know what Scouting has done for me and I felt it was very good I empower these young girls because I have seen their potential. As much as I still get resistance from the community, I am doing it passionately – I have decided, let it be. If this is where Scouting will land me, I am ready for them.”

“I was the first to wear Scout uniform in the camp. Our girls never wanted to put on the uniform because they had a different perception. When see me in the uniform they feel encouraged and can now participate in activities like jumping and running among others that we do in Scouting. Scouting is an alternative activity for them, especially when they go back to their country, Somalia, it will be very helpful. The message I wish to pass to my people, especially my sisters, is that being a Scout is something that can make you a role model, a person show is respected because you will be having a responsibility. In Dadaab the Scouts are not allowed exposure, to move and visit other parts of the country due to lack of travel documents, So I wish the Scouts could come there to see what they are doing,” says Kaha Salat Ali, Scout Leader and Education Officer, AVSI Foundation in Dadaab.

For these volunteers, it is pure passion that drives them to use Scouting to open the world for these young people.

“Volunteering is already difficult and people who do Scouting have a passion for that. But volunteering in this context of humanitarian crisis I imagine is already so difficult. I have a lot of respect for the work these volunteers are doing and it’s an inspiration to all volunteers around the world,” notes Brunel Etienne.

Towards Greater Impact

Despite the many positives experienced through the Scouting for Refugees programme in Dadaab, it has equally exposed the many unmet challenges that continue to exist in the camps. Issues around Environmental regeneration through tree planting, improvement of food security through sustainable agriculture, provision of access to clean drinking water, countering violent extremism and building community resilience, peace building through host community-refugee interactions, provision of psychosocial support, entrepreneurship and livelihoods development, skills training especially for out-of-school young people, as well as physical and virtual opportunities for peer-to-peer exchanges with other young people outside the camps are some of the urgent needs.

These are issues that Scouting, working with other partners, are continuing to explore with the aim of developing and implementing sustainable solutions that help to bring the benefits of the Scouting for Refugees programme to more young people at Dadaab but also replicable to other humanitarian situations worldwide. Developing a tailor-made programme with the learnings received so far and incorporation of refugees into existing Scout activities, as well as building capacity of local leaders to drive and support the process are some of the options under consideration to give more visibility to refugee projects and inspire others.


The African Union adopted 2019 as the year for “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa.’’ The face of these people are mostly children, young people and women. With a strong focus on diversity and inclusion, the Scout movement is committed to increasing access to the Scout programme for these groups of people who are forced out of their homes by circumstances that are in most cases not of their own making. Scouting provides them with a new sense of belonging, a safe space to learn and develop their skills and an opportunity to prepare themselves for a more productive life, in and out of the camps. By so doing, the movement is helping to lay strong foundations for sustainable livelihoods for these refugees, returnees and IDPs.

The Scouting for Refugees Programme in Kenya is one of the many initiatives Scouts around the world are running to help refugees, returnees and IDPs to feel comfortable and lead normal lives in their new ‘homes.’ From the “My Tent Your Tent” in Lebanon to the “Time to be Welcome” in Greece and France, Scouts are leading a new wave of sustainable youth-led action in humanitarian situations. 

On this World Refugee Day, we honour the Scouts and many other courageous people who support refugees who have fled from their homes because of conflicts or natural disasters. We further encourage and invite more people to take steps, big or small, in solidarity with refugees and internally displaced persons.

The story was published on the World Scouting and on AVSI Foundation websites and referenced by UNCHR on the occasion of World Refugee Day on 20th June 2019

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