The first ever TEDx conference in a refugee camp was organized on Saturday at Kenya's Kakuma in the country's northwestern region.
Originally set up in 1992 to host thousands of the then-Sudanese refugees fleeing from civil war, Kakuma now hosts more than 185,000 refugees from 19 countries - including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.The conference, co-hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was a unique event, where more than 250 high-profile guests, including ambassadors and ministers, joined over 5,000 refugees at Kakuma camp to listen to stories from successful refugees who are making changes all over the world.
Pur Biel, 23, who is an athlete, said he was among the participants of the 2016 Summer Olympics as part of the first ever refugee team to participate in the event - running in the 800-meter race.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) on the sidelines of the event, Biel said, "I joined a running competition sometime back in Kenya and although everyone else had shoes, I had none. I ran a long distance barefooted."
"I ran remembering the time I was running from conflict and this gave me strength," he said, adding that he came third in the running competition and got a chance to participate in a tournament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi from where he was selected to compete in the Olympics.
Later, he spoke to 193 nations at the U.N. General Assembly to support a UNHCR petition calling on nations to stand with refugees.
Biel is now not only a world-renowned athlete or a refugee ambassador but also a member of the Olympic Refugee Foundation.
He called on the international community to support refugees, who are going through a lot of hardships, and urged the refugees to never lose hope.
Also speaking at the event was Halima Aden, 20, the world's first hijab-wearing supermodel, whose family fled the civil war in Somalia in 1994 to take refuge in Kenya.
After staying for years in Kenya, Aden's family moved to the U.S., where she started working as a model and that led her to work with the United Nations.
"I am a black Muslim-Somali-American woman [...] and also a refugee, I am so proud to be a refugee and will never be ashamed of being one. I couldn't have got here if I didn't have my background as a refugee. I am also the first hijab-wearing model and made history just recently by making it to the British Vogue magazine's cover," Aden said.
In a message to the refugees, she said, "I want you to have hope and faith. Work hard and gain knowledge, acquire skills and make your life better, make the most out of every opportunity no matter how small it is."
She stressed that refugees need education and empowerment.
"Educating a refugee is educating a nation. A nation can easily regain peace and stability if well-educated refugees go back to their homes and rebuild it by changing the system of bad governance and promoting peace which they have seen in their host nations like Kenya," Aden said.
Mary Maker, a South Sudanese who is now a teacher, and Amina Rwimo, who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is now an award-winning filmmaker, are also among others who shared their success stories.
At the event, Josephat Nanok, the governor of Turkana County, also shared his experiences.
"I came from the southern part of Turkana, a place where there were cattle rustling, drought and chronic malnutrition. I experienced first-hand problems that refugees go through due to fighting, lack of proper health services, insecurity and droughts. The refugees have helped our economy to grow and I am a strong believer in creating better conditions for refugees and host communities alike."
Apurva Sanghi, an economist working with the World Bank, said his recent research found out that refugees in Kakuma has brought more boom than gloom, with a boost to markets and agriculture, employment opportunities (plus 3.5 percent annually) and social dynamics.
"Thus policymakers should focus on economic integration," he told participants of the TEDx Conference.
TED is a world-renowned nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading, usually in the form of short, powerful talks delivered by today's leading innovators, thinkers and doers.
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