ORAM helps to spearhead ambitious soap-making project in Kakuma Refugee Camp
With close to 200,000 refugees, Kakuma Refugee Camp is one of the largest camps in the world. It’s also home to hundreds of East African LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees, who have fled from Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi. LGBTIQ refugees are often doubly stigmatized — firstly for being foreigners or refugees, and secondly on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration, is dedicated solely to LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in places like Kakuma, providing outreach and advocacy alongside direct humanitarian assistance. ORAM is one of the first international organizations devoted to advocating for sexual and gender minority asylum seekers and refugees, and as Alight’s subsidiary partner, we continue this work together.
In Kakuma, LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees struggle to survive in the camp. Experiencing discrimination from both the Kenyan host community and fellow refugees, they have limited access to work and services. Many refugees also live in abject poverty. Knowing the daily violence and extreme challenges faced by the LGBTIQ community in Kakuma, ORAM decided to step in to help and support on-going livelihood projects in the camp.
Getting Down to Business: Soap-Making in Kakuma
Despite the daily obstacles, one group of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees decided to create the camp’s first LGBTIQ soap-making business.
Supported by ORAM, the cooperative developed a marketing strategy and coined the name ‘Kakuma Cleans’ for the business. They’re now producing large batches of multipurpose soap, which is packaged into repurposed water bottles, given a logo, and readied for sale in the shop.
The cooperative has also generated a wider market of customers both within and outside the camp, including local Kenyan businesses who recognize the quality of the product. Since production started, the cooperative has produced 1,168 gallons and sold 749 gallons of multipurpose soap!
“The Soap Business will help my future,” said Abdu, a project participant, “and give me the possibility to earn money so I can survive.”
The project is growing, and some of the trainees have already begun training other LGBTIQ refugees, sharing their new expertise and extending the skill base within the refugee community.
A Pivot During COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the cooperative, seeing an opportunity to help, stepped up to lead prevention and containment of the virus by expanding its product line. Now, the group is producing hand sanitizer and is acquiring more equipment and raw materials to increase production. Since March, the team has produced 171 gallons and sold 72 gallons of hand sanitizer, helping to keep the entire operation running and providing much-needed protection for the community.
“Working with the community has been an inspiration to ORAM and its partners,” said Steve Roth, ORAM Executive Director. “Their resilience in the face of extreme hardship and determination to build a better future for themselves is incredible. They have a lot to teach us.”
Sadly, there have been more attacks in Kakuma Camp against LGBTIQ refugees since the pandemic began. Yet those LGBTIQ refugees involved in the soap making business have not been targeted—they’re increasingly seen as instrumental members of the wider refugee community. It’s this kind of recognition and hope that ORAM works toward for all the people the organization serves.
More about ORAM
ORAM protects and empowers LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees globally, creating sustainability and systematic change. Founded in 2008, ORAM is one of the first non-governmental organization to advocate for and assist people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression, and has since become the thought leader in LGBTIQ migration.
Over the last decade, ORAM has trained NGOs, governments, and UNHCR on the unique protection needs of the severely marginalized LGBTIQ refugee population. They support LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees from navigating the long asylum process from the moment they arrive in their first country of asylum to being resettled to a safe third country. ORAM collaborates with local partners and our beneficiaries to ensure that our work is built around the people we serve.
ORAM has worked in a variety of different geographical locations, from the Middle East, to Africa, Mexico, Europe, and the US, supporting vulnerable LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees on their journey to a safer and better life. ORAM supports our beneficiaries through delivering legal assistance, advancing economic inclusion through livelihood programs, building coalitions, spearheading work in new countries, championing the rights of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees, and promoting sustainable solutions.
ORAM’s Executive Director is Steve Roth. Learn more about Steve here!
Refugees On the Frontlines of the COVID-19 Response
In the time of COVID-19, we celebrate refugees who are on the frontlines and fighting this pandemic. We’ve seen everyday heroes from all walks of life step up to join the response. LGBTIQ Refugees in Kakuma are finding their footing, spearheading this ambitious response despite the odds. You can learn more about ORAM and their soap-making program in Kakuma here, and give today to support their work!