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Kids’ Athletics helps to make Kakuma Refugee Camp a home | News | Athletics Better World

Kids’ Athletics helps to make Kakuma Refugee Camp a home | News | Athletics Better World

What does home mean to you? Home can be a place, a sense of belonging or a feeling of happiness. For refugees at the Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei, home could easily be a Kids’ Athletics gathering.

On the early morning of 25 April, the Kalobeyei Sports Complex within the refugee settlement came alive, buzzing with athletics activities. A total of 125 young people from five schools took part in the Kids’ Athletics event, held as part of a four-day Kids’ Athletics workshop.

In collaboration with World Athletics, the workshop was held in Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei integrated settlements in north-western Kenya as part of the larger Athletics and Education programme implemented by AHEEN (African Higher Education in Emergencies Network). AHEEN, a network of African institutions, aims to keep young people that are in refugee communities in school and education, informed by principles of physical, social, cognitive and emotional wellbeing and sports science. On board for the workshop were UNHCR and Youth Education and Sports (YES), a refugee-led organisation that supports the development of sport and education for young people in the refugee context. Based in Kakuma, YES is a member of the AHEEN network.

Following the workshop, 23 teachers from four refugee schools and one from the host community applied their learning and delivered a fun event for the children. They were assisted by the U20 Athlete Refugee Team, a team supported by World Athletics as part of the AHEEN Athletics & Education programme.

“As the most universally accessible sport, it is vital that we reach down to the grassroots level to children across the globe to get them inspired about athletics. This is especially true in reaching youth who are displaced or in difficult situations outside of their control. Our Kids’ Athletics programme is the perfect vehicle to enable this by providing the flexibility we need to work with communities like the Kakuma Refugee Camp,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe.

“Taking Kids’ Athletics to these settings means it becomes much more than a sport programme. With a holistic approach, it combines social, emotional and mental elements to promote a sense of wellbeing, and this is at the heart of our project in the Kakuma Refugee Camp. This is what Kids’ Athletics stands for.

Kids' Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp

Kids’ Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp (© AHEEN / MorisAlbert)

“There can be no doubt as to the importance of Africa to our sport. The depth of athletics talent on the African continent is unparalleled. It is therefore our duty as the global governing body of athletics to implement programmes like Kids’ Athletics to ensure that every child – including those who find themselves in refugee camps such as Kakuma – is offered the same chance to reach the highest echelons of our sport.

“World Athletics will always promote our sport in Africa through grassroots outreach, the development of sporting infrastructure across the region, and the hosting of athletics events.”

Barbara Moser-Mercer is coordinator of AHEEN and designer of its Athletics & Education programme. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Nairobi.

“The community showed up in the stadium and there were many more kids who had wanted to participate. This bodes well for the future expansion of the programme,” she said, reflecting on the workshop and Kids’ Athletics event.

“Both the teachers/coaches and the kids demonstrated incredible engagement and showed us just how crucial sport is for wellbeing, especially in fragile refugee contexts. World Athletics and AHEEN collaborated on the delivery of the Kids’ Athletics workshop and made considerable effort to adapt the programme to the refugee context, ensuring that all the activities fit and met the needs of the local community.”

For Catherine O’Sullivan, Kids’ Athletics Senior Manager at World Athletics, the workshop reinforced the importance of the programme and the work that has been done during the past few years.

“It was heartwarming to see Kids’ Athletics being applied in this setting, bringing positive experiences and smiles to children and young people living in very challenging conditions,” she said.

At the end of the event, food was shared, certificates were awarded, plenty of photos were taken and celebrations were had. The four days impacted heavily on teachers, children and the communities they came from. Athletics brought a positive experience and smiles to children and young people living in extremely challenging conditions. Athletics made them feel at home.

The Kids’ Athletics concept

Kids’ Athletics is World Athletics’ grassroots participation programme, currently implemented in more than 150 countries. It uses the power of athletics to inspire children and young people – wherever they are and whatever their circumstances – to be more active, develop their skills and confidence, and connect with sport and physical activity for life. Developed by coaches, teachers and young people around the globe, Kids’ Athletics offers a uniquely holistic, fun and quality experience for children and young people. It is specifically designed to adapt to different communities and individual needs across multiple contexts.

The first day of the workshop in the Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei was mainly theory, centred around the key concepts and principles of Kids’ Athletics. It highlighted the value of sport and physical activity on community and social cohesion, creating positive experiences for young people through adapting and modifying activity to meet community and individual needs and focusing on a holistic approach to development. The overall aim is that children have a quality experience and feel a sense of belonging.

For the coaches, the benefit of the workshop transcends individual growth. It is in the holistic shift of the mindset of several teachers who will support the Kids’ Athletics programme.

Kids' Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp

Kids’ Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp (© AHEEN / MorisAlbert)

Arcade Arakaza, an AHEEN-YES assistant coach in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, was among those who could clearly see the programme’s success.

“The kids were happy to participate and enjoyed the games. I could read on their faces a love of sports,” he said.

“There is interest and there is inspiration in the kids taking up athletics in the Kakuma camps. Athletics gives young people in the refugee community the chance to showcase their talents and eventually follow their dreams. It plays a vital role in building synergies, and uniting refugees from different cultures and backgrounds.”

The second day of the workshop was dedicated to exploring fundamental and athletics movement skills, to ensure teachers and coaches understood their role in physical skill development. The participants used local recyclables and other ready-to-find materials to make equipment such as jump ropes, hurdles and balls.

“We spent the afternoon looking at how Kids’ Athletics can be fully implemented in low resource environments such as refugee camps, where materials are scarce,” added Moser-Mercer.

Day three focused on highlighting the vital importance of safeguarding, providing guidance on creating safe, inclusive and enjoyable environments for children and young people in athletics. Participants learnt essential practices and strategies to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people, especially for vulnerable populations. As part of this session, participants completed the World Athletics safeguarding certification.

Ahead of the Kids’ Athletics event, workshop participants worked in groups, with each designing its own Kids’ Athletics station for the stadium. On the last day of the workshop, the teachers and coaches applied their learning when guiding the 125 young people.

“Teachers face some big challenges with overcrowding of refugee schools – some classes with more than 100 children,” said O’Sullivan. “However, they did a fantastic job implementing the learnings from the Kids’ Athletics workshop and applying local knowledge to ensure all children had a safe and enjoyable experience.”

World Athletics and AHEEN have collaborated to ensure that the introduction of Kids’ Athletics into the schools in Kakuma is in line with Kenya’s new competency-based curriculum, which provides sports and the arts at primary and secondary school levels.

Kocho Adudu, who has worked as a refugee incentive teacher for almost six years, was one of the teachers involved in the workshop. Teaching mathematics, agriculture, nutrition and integrated science, his designated school is Fuji Primary School located at Kakuma Two.

Adudu works with diverse groups of learners from different cultural backgrounds with varying levels of education. As a result, he plays a crucial role in supporting the academic, emotional and social development of refugee children and adolescents.

Kids' Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp

Kids’ Athletics workshop at Kakuma Refugee Camp (© AHEEN / MorisAlbert)

Highlighting the role athletics plays in the physical and mental health of young people in refugee settlements, he said: “I had the opportunity to work with talented and driven athletes from the refugee community and it was inspiring to witness their dedication and passion for sports.

“Introducing athletics to schools and communities is crucially important for several reasons. Athletics encourages regular physical activity which is crucial for promoting overall health and wellbeing. Participation in athletics has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, including reducing stress, anxiety and depression.”

“The workshop has improved my capacity to provide my learners with fundamental movement skills in athletics and to ensure that we can nurture more young talents through a close collaboration between host community and camp schools,” says Patrick Ikwara, a teacher from the host community school that participated in the Kids’ Athletics Workshop.

Opening doors

In 2021, World Athletics embarked on a pilot project with a group of 10 U20 athletes with the sole aim of training them for the World Athletics U20 Championships Lima 24 in August.

“Through the support of World Athletics, we as team members benefitted from coaching training, with all four team leads now qualified at World Athletics Coaching Level 2 for middle and long distance,” said Moser-Mercer. “Two coaches were trained as Kids’ Athletics coaches and one as a Kids’ Athletics master trainer in 2023.”

The U20 programme was expanded to 15 athletes in 2023. In the same year, a partnership was established with the All4Running School in Kapsabet, where three senior runners and four U20 runners – two of whom are now seniors – attended for boarding and training. Perina Lokure Nakang, who will make her Olympic debut this year, is among the athletes who graduated from the U20 programme in Kakuma and training in Kapsabet during the school year.

Perina Lokure Nakang of the ART at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24

Perina Lokure Nakang of the ART at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships Belgrade 24 (© Getty Images)

World Athletics has also helped with sponsorships, which then provided clothing and shoes for the athletes.

Collaboration with Athletics Kenya (AK) and the African Athletics Development Center (AADC) has also opened the door for refugee athletes to enter and compete at the Kenyan national trials and competitions. AHEEN is working with AK and AADC on certifying the stadium that had been built in Kalobeyei. The facility is being used as a training camp for the U20 athletes preparing for the World U20 Championships.

Nevertheless, this is a continuous process. With the support from World Athletics and AHEEN, the teachers are now tasked with implementing Kids’ Athletics within their school setting.

“The impact measurements and learnings will be collected over the next 12 months to establish a sustainable and quality approach to delivery,” said Moser-Mercer.

The aim is to expand into further refugee camps across Kenya and Africa, with the purpose of making athletics the home of many refugees.

Michelle Katami for World Athletics