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Youth empowerment through Design - workshops in the Kakuma refugee camp (update: user experience map 2/7)

Youth from the Eastlands of Nairobi and international artists conduct creative workshops with young people in the Kakuma refugee camp.

Photo of Usanii Lab
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There are about 179,000 people living in the Kakuma refugee camp. This may look like just a number, but individual and personal stories are behind every refugee. With our project we focus on personal empowerment through creativity. Everybody has a talent and in our different workshops and courses you get a chance to explore it.

Our goal is to create a space in the refugee camp where youth can meet and talk about ideas, art and own projects. Through organizing a festival as a group we will support team building. Participants will have responsibilities and have the chance to implement their own ideas.

Kakuma refugee camp has occasionally had conflicts as a result of differences in nationality and ethnicity. It has over 15 nationalities and different ethnic groups living together. Learning Design, Photography and Film skills will bring the youths together with a common goal, hence build a peaceful relationship within the camp and being able to understand and appreciate each others culture.

We will try to have a mixed group of individuals between 16 and 35 years of age. We welcome people who have dropped out of school or who might not know how to write and read. They still have talents and might explore their talent in art. As you learn a lot from your team members we would like to have a diverse group of people with different backgrounds in culture, education and different age. 


Our project consists of 4 phases:

    1. Design and media course (2 months)

    2. Workshops (2 weeks)

    3. Festival

    4. Reaching sustainability

PHASE 1: a two months courses with 3-4 teachers/workshop conductors and around 30 students

Main objective: Team building, establishing a safe zone to be creative, impart knowledge of basic design, photography and film skills.

Target group: Young people who are interested in learning design and media skills.

Design, photography and film skills are shared through different workshops. The workshops are based on our experiences with USANII LAB. The main motto is “learning by doing”. Most workshops have the same basic structure:

      - developing an idea

      - handcrafting it

      - continue designing it on the computer

Take the logotype workshop as an example: First the logo is designed with spray paint and stencils. It can be spray-painted on the cover of a sketchbook  (+learning some crafts: how to bind an exercise book in a few hours) and finally converted to a vector graphic on a computer.

The workshops remain short in the beginning to achieve a rewarding outcome for everyone at the end of the day. Each creative output is presented to others and discussed within the group.

During later stages the workshops may include group work and have a duration of several days.

An important goal of the workshops - beside team building - is removing the preconceptions of what it means to be creative that are inhibiting the creativity. It’s all about ideas - they don’t have to be perfect but can be the start of something. As an example see this video from “Object recycling” workshop.

This goes hand in hand with learning computer skills. First we will teach digital literacy, what cloud computing is (using dropbox, google docs, ...) and then teach some Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign skills in different workshops.

A variety of workshops is planned:

Designing a logo, designing your own book, making a stop motion movie/animation, doing a short film, learning how to make photo portraits, designing a movie poster.

Here are the ideas for photography and film workshops from USANII LAB's workshop conductor Ekwam James Chemose who organized the pilot project in Kakuma refugee camp: 

Photography workshop will entail: Skills on handling a camera, camera settings, learn how to edit pictures and how to write captions for them. In addition they are going to learn how to present their pictures and to organize exhibitions.

Filming workshop will include: Skills on handling a camera, camera settings, learn editing, learning how to make documentaries and movies. The trainees will be asked to come up with ideas of  documentaries and movies they want to make. Afterwards, in groups they are going to form members of the crew and cast. The production team will strictly be from among the trainees under the supervision of a trainer. The film and the documentary will therefore be screened at the end of the festival in Phase 3.  The films and documentaries produced will in future participate in international and national Film festival e.g Slum film festival, Lola film festival and Kenya International Film Festival.

PHASE 2: two weeks workshop festival

The participants of PHASE 1 will help organize the festival for 8 workshop conductors and around 120 students.

Main objective: learning to know different artists that are conducting the workshops and different styles and ideas, reaching a wider audience. The participants from Phase 1 may now take more responsibility in helping with the organization, but they just as well take part in the workshops

Target group: young people who want to try out something creative and have fun.

The workshops are open for more participants. There are workshops planned in the fields of music, film, photography, fashion, design and art. Each workshop lasts one week and has 15 participants. The workshops can be repeated (one in the first week, the same one in the second week for a different group). Depending on the workshop conductors the workshops can also build on each other such as recording a song during the first week, then shooting a music video with the song in the second week.

During this time the participants of phase 1 regularly meet to organize the festival/exhibition (PHASE 3)

PHASE 3: one day festival/exhibition

Main objective: presenting the output of Phase 1 and 2. The participants of the 2 months training will help document everything, presenting the created art works, photos and films to the other residents of the refugee camp.

The participants of phase one will set up an exhibition place, document the workshops and festival in a small magazine and will edit a documentary which will be screened.

All output will be not only shown in the camp but also documented on a website.

PHASE 4: how does it go on? how will the project be sustainable?

Through our experience with USANII LAB we know that youth develop their own ideas and projects, so it highly depends on the participants how it will go on after phase 3. As we work with them to train them as multipliers, they will be able to conduct workshops themselves and train others.

What we offer is support for the team in the camp: through exchange of ideas and contact which would require internet access for them (for now we share a whatsapp group with the participants from the pilot project) as well as organizing new workshops every few months to give new input from outside the camp.


Refugee camps serve an important function in securing the livelihood of people. However, the living situation introduces dependency and in the long term suppresses self-determination by eliminating choice. Our aim is to counter this development by enabling creativity. Just creating something, learning media skills and being productive with whatever is available - your voice and your talent - can be very empowering. Different workshops will be held in the field of photography, film, design, experimental arts, and music. This is a project by youths for youths - the creatives conducting workshops will be us, youth from the Eastlands of Nairobi and some young international artists. The workshops output will be exhibited in a festival in Kakuma refugee camp and online. Our goals in brief: - empower youth: through using media skills and creativity - capacity building: reduce boredom and support youth to be creative multipliers - peacebuilding: being part and creating something huge together (final exhibition) - creative exchange: between participants and workshop conductors


Youth in the refugee camp Kakuma in north-western Kenya will benefit from this project. Several stay in the camp for many years and struggle with boredom and little options in everyday life. Chemose, resident of a slum in Nairobi who conducted a workshop in Kakuma says: "if you are poor in the slum you still have options. If you are hungry you can visit your friend or look for food in the garbage. In the camp is just desert."


We have already tested our idea: USANII LAB won a competition of 700 dollars and we decided to use this money to conduct workshops in the Kakuma refugee camp. Two team members organized the event: Ekwam James Chemose, resident of the Mathare slum and Cyrus Simiyu from Kayole (Nairobi). They spent two weeks in Kakuma, conducting workshops in photography, weaving and design. The challenges we encountered were limited equipment - just a few cameras and one computer - as well as lack of electricity. For the next workshops we are looking for solutions to store the equipment permanently in the Kakuma camp, so it can be used after the workshops and festival. Some workshops will be limiting themselves to using only the local resources. They can be repeated by the multipliers in any case, even with the lack of computers, electricity and cameras. USANII LAB itself is kind of a prototype as well. On our website are sample workshops:


- we got feedback and suggestions about the timing of our project: in order to have many participants for the 2 weeks workshop phase and the festival (phase 2 and 3) we want to do at least these phases during school holidays (thank you Vestine and Bettina) - we also got feedback about involving youth who have never attended school, we definately want to work with them as well - we got the suggestions to teach social media skills, which is something we think is a great idea, too (thank you Emerimana for mentioning) - we asked global educator Professor Ludger Pfanz for a review, this is what he wrote: What is education? Everybody says it's the transfer of knowledge. But it is more than just that. It is also the transfer of perspectives and possibilities. What you can do and what you can be is greatly limited in a formal educational setting. That is why Usanii Lab and other projects by Viola Kup are so effective - they give the participants a way to see their lives and their future from new perspectives. That said, I still wish that the organisers don’t concentrate on the outcome, however noble their goal may be. It is the process that is important and with a good process a good outcome comes naturally. Ludger Pfanz, Founder of 3D Festival BEYOND, Professor at Karlsruhe University of Art and Design


Some art projects already exist in Kakuma, but we fill a niche. What we try to do is giving youth an opportunity to try out different media and ways to express creativity. Our goal is not to educate youth to be professional film makers, photographers or designers. But if you try out different things you might find a passion for something, find what you are talented in. This might empower you to go on, develop yourself and your skills with the help of USANII LAB, internet academies, but also maybe with finding a goal to study something or joining another organisation later that is specialized in your field of interest.


- equipment: laptops, cameras, tripods, generator (for electricity) or solar energy, projector, a printer, internet access, SD cards, sound recorder, microphones, speakers travel expenses: for Kenyans to travel from Nairobi to Kakuma + a few international artists to travel to Kakuma - accommodation - food: you can't work with an empty stomach. Our participants from the pilot project shared with us that the diet they are having in Kakuma refugee camp is very boring, we would like to involve them with cooking for all workshop participants. They all come from different areas in Africa, with different food specialties. We want to organize the ingredients and spices they recommend.


This project thrives in a culturally diverse environment. While culturally formed norms and expectations can lead to misunderstandings in everyday life, in a design setting working with such misunderstandings can lead to rich new solutions. The participants learn new concrete crafts that can be useful years later. Through the use of both old and new media in the workshops, a wide range of interests can be covered and it makes the participants less dependent on having access to specialized equipment. Finally, through training the original 30 participants we hope to start a cascade of education that can go on for a long time.


- If you left equipment in the camp permanently who would run the workshops and how? we want to store equipment in Kakuma (camera, computer) for sustainability. It would be great to partner with an organisation. But we also know it's possible differently as well. For quite a while the Usanii team had no office in Nairobi and our equipment was always with different members. The team itself is responsible. The usanii team uses their camera and computer for fun projects but also to earn money. So far we have good experiences with youth being responsible for their equipment. We will try to keep in contact with the participants and support them with organizing workshops themselves. But we also think of regularly doing workshops in the camp (depending on funding: every few months a different workshop with new input as we do it with USANII LAB in Nairobi) - What makes your idea unique? Our idea was developed in Kenya by youth who themselves come from humble backgrounds: the original idea came from James Ekwam Chemose, member of Usanii Lab. He grew up in the Mathare slum while being originally from Turkana, the area around Kakuma. On a trip to visit his family members he also visited the refugee camp where he saw the lack of opportunities for youth. The USANII LAB team had a budget of 700 dollars they could use for anything they want, and James Ekwam Chemose’s idea was to do workshops in the Kakuma refugee camp. With the support of the whole USANII LAB team him and Cyrus Simiyu did a successful pilot project in June 2014. Ever since we plan to go back and share our skills again. Our main focus is the youth of the Kakuma refugee camp, their ideas and their creativity. We don’t want to filter their ideas, everything is allowed: from making a splatter movie to designing a mini skirt or a comic which tells their own story. The results will be personal outcomes. You do it for yourself and there is the chance to show it on the festival/exhibition in the camp to empower others to be creative or take part in future workshops. - How do you plan to not only get feedback from residents about your idea, but to identify what needs the youth in Kakuma have? We talk about the needs with residents and also learn from the experiences our workshop leaders from Nairobi who could already identify some needs in the pilot phase.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We would like to collaborate with others as we did in Nairobi and during the workshops in the Kakuma refugee camp. We have gathered great experiences working with MYSA, Shootback and the Mwelu foundation in Nairobi. For the pilot project in Kakuma we are very thankful for the help we got from LWF and UNHCR.


USANII LAB is a collective of young creatives from the Eastlands of Nairobi. In different workshops we gain design skills and practice graphic design computer programs. We experiment in different fields of arts and also publish a magazine called ZOOM, a platform for young creatives in Kenya.


  • Yes, and I am looking for a partner working with refugee communities to implement this idea.
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Team (12)

Viola's profile
Viola Kup

Role added on team:

"Supporting coordinator and founder of USANII LAB."

Cyrus's profile
Cyrus Simiyu

Role added on team:

"Responsible for communications, one of the team leaders of the pilot project and always in contact with the newly made friends in Kakuma."

Ndegwa's profile
Ndegwa Wanjiku

Role added on team:

"Designer and photographer, will be organizing workshops."

Usanii's profile
Carlos's profile
Carlos Okumu

Role added on team:

"Illustartor and designer, will be organizing workshops in the refugee camp."

Michail's profile
Michail Rybakov

Role added on team:

"Supporting technically in areas of film, photography and web development, conducted a workshop with USANII LAB in Nairobi."

James's profile
James Chemose Ekwam

Role added on team:

"Coordinator and one of the team leaders of the pilot project."

Michael's profile
Michael Maina

Role added on team:

"Chairperson of USANII LAB and in-charge of documenting the activities."

Getrude's profile
Getrude Jijo

Role added on team:

"photographer, film director and idealist, will be organizing workshops"

Emmanuel's profile
Impeesa's profile
Yvonne's profile


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Usanii Lab. This is an exciting proposal!
What type of low resource projects are you thinking about? Do the youth in Kakuma have ideas about this? Did the youth you worked with have any dream projects that they want to do, or skills that they want to learn? Is there a way to introduce projects that build on skills learned during a workshop, that youth can work on either as groups, or independently, and can be reviewed and shared with your team on a return visit?

Photo of Usanii Lab

Dear Bettina,
thank you for your comments. We just added our curriculum. We are still in contact with the youth in Kakuma and one thing they emphasize is learning camera and computer skills. We are busy to answer all the other quetsions today, but if yours are not answered, yet - please contact us again!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi all.
Thanks for the information. Your outline of the curriculum is very informative! Regarding logistics, will the workshops be conducted at a time when youth who are in formal school settings can attend? As these creative workshops might generate a big interest, have you thought about what mechanisms you might put in place so access is fair? How did you advertise and register youth for the pilot workshop?

Are you familiar with Photo Voice? Since you mention a big interest in photography this work might interest your group and the youth in the camp. (You might know about it already, but if not here are some links.)

All the best with your work!

Photo of Usanii Lab

Hi Bettina,
thanks so much for your questions, ideas and links! Vestine mentioned the holidays as well, and we definitely think it is a great idea to have the 2 weeks workshop phase (phase 2) and the festival (phase 3) during the school holidays. For the two months training (phase 1) we would like to focus on youth who don't have the possibility to go to school, have dropped out or graduated already.
About the selection and mobilization of youth for the workshops we would like to get the support of local organizations who are based in the Kakuma refugee camp like LWF. We will try to have a mixed group, different nationalities, gender equality and different ages. We made great experiences with the support from other organizations for Usanii Lab in Nairobi. Several of our team members are also members of other organizations like Shootback and Mwelu Foundation, both photography and Film projects. This is why we work with photography and film making as well, the Usanii Lab team has several young experienced experts in these fields. We also already know that residents in Kakuma were keen on learning how to handle a camera. But we also want to go a step further, not just learning photography and film making, but also what you can do with your photos and videos. Like how you organize an exhibition, how you take pictures for a magazine and how you even design it yourself. Our goal is that young people learn to know how to produce something from scratch. The first day you might have hold a camera in your hand for the very first time. And after two months you got an idea how to shoot a film, how to edit it and how to upload it on youtube or screen it on the festival you organized yourself. You might not be the greatest expert yet, but you got an idea how it works. We will also try to show ways how you can find information to go on with learning and teaching yourself within your team or where to find information in the internet or simply keep in contact with your workshop conductors via the internet.
Furthermore we don’t only focus on photography and film, but also on other fields of art and design. This can be how you use your talent to draw to become an illustrator (e.g. you can design a t-shirt print) or your talent to tell a story for being a presenter in a video or during the festival.
Thanks so much for the links! We didn’t know this organization, yet. These are links to Shootback and Mwelu foundation the photography and film projects mentioned above.

Photo of Vestine Umubyeyi

Hello again, I have read you interesting curriculum, and it is well scheduled and I have few questions: are you going to work with youth who are in schools or even those who never had a chance to attend schools and are interested can join? Is there any age limit for beneficiaries of the project? In which area exactly do you intend to conduct the workshops? I also suggest that all phases may be held during holidays for the success of the festival/exhibition phase.

Photo of Usanii Lab

Dear Vestine, thank you for your suggestion and questions!
We want to try to have a very mixed group of individuals. We welcome people who have dropped out of school or who might not know how to write and read. They still have talents and might explore their talent as a photographer or graphic artist. You learn always a lot from the colleagues in your team, that's why it is great to have people with different backgrounds. We think of working with people between 16 and 35 (for those who attended a school who have cleared form four - Secondary school). But if someone is older and passionate about joining she or he is also welcome. We did our pilot project in a community center in Kakuma 3 by LWF. They offered us to come there again which we would love to do.

Photo of Emerimana Daniel Christian

Hello to Usanii Lab,
Congratulations for your idea being selected for the refinement phase. I think this is a good idea especially for young refugees because I believe that it will equip them with reliable skills on how they can be influential contributor. By using social media skills, young refugee will be able to address societal problems faced by the communities. I am curious to know how will you be able to implement this idea in Kakuma while you are based in Nairobi?

Photo of Usanii Lab

Thanks Daniel for your question. We will have people based in Kakuma for the duration of the workshop and we added our curriculum just now explaining our idea in more detailed. Social media skills will be part of workshops, but we are also aware that it is difficult to access internet in the camp all the time. We already share a whatsapp group with youth in Kakuma and we hope to train people in Kakuma as multipliers so that they can go on with doing workshops in the future. But we will also try to keep in contact as we do now.

Photo of Vestine Umubyeyi

Hello Usanii Lab Team,
First of all congratulation for your interesting idea! I am Vestine Umubyeyi, I am a community champion in Kakuma Refugee Camp, I warmly welcome your idea in our life setting, I hope many youth are going to enjoy and benefit from your skills and services. On the ground, I desire to offer my support in the refinement phase.
Thank you, Vestine.

Photo of Usanii Lab

Thank you Vestine, it's great to receive support from you! Please read our curriculum and feel free to add your ideas and comments.

Photo of AMPLIFY Team

Congratulations on making it to the Refugee Education Challenge Refinement List, Usanaii Lab! We’re excited by how your idea involves peer to peer exchange and interested to learn more. It’s also great that you have already begun to test your idea in Kakuma. We’re curious to know how you have developed the curriculum for your idea and how you plan to evolve it based on the needs of Kakuma residents. How do you plan to not only get feedback from residents about your idea, but to identify what needs the youth in Kakuma have? If you left equipment in the camp permanently, who would run the workshops and how? As you know, there are many participatory art related projects for youth - are you aware of any others in Kakuma? What makes your idea unique? One way you can help us get a better understanding of your idea is to upload a User Experience Map

Great to have you in the challenge!

Photo of Usanii Lab

Dear AMPLIFY team, thank you so much! We tried to answer your questions above :)

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Refinement Phase Usanii! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 5/11" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Ali Inam

Great share Usanii lab! I am extremely excited about the idea of a design workshop. I think self learning is the way to proceed and refugee students should be allowed to learn by documenting their experiences as well. I am trying to work on a slight deviation of this model by leveraging technology and use of tablets for them to document their stories as they progress through the leadership and design workshop. It will be great to have your comments and suggestions for improvement on this:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being featured in this week's highlights!

Photo of Usanii Lab

wow! Asante sana (thank you)!

Photo of James Chemose Ekwam

Great news!!! Such an honour! We are surely humbled to be featured. Thank you!!

Photo of Cyrus Simiyu

Great idea ...

Photo of Ndegwa Wanjiku


Photo of Yvonnne Bezerra de Mello

We have used in our school in Rio in the most violent slum where we are located, workshops as photography and arts. Great idea!
Yvonne Bezerra de mello
Uere-Mello methodology

Photo of Usanii Lab

Thank you Ynonne! Do you have a website? We are curious to see your project :) We are also based in a slum called Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya. Here are some of our workshops:

Photo of Impeesa Ken

Good project idea and most inspiring youths from Nairobi slums who got the golden opportunity to learn new skills in photography and graphic designing now trying to move beyond boarders passing the skilled knowledge to the far reached corners of Kenya, perfecto, bellisimi