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A resettlement journey: Kakuma ICT trainer Taban shares his life story, from Sudan, to Kenya, to Mexico


When Taban was only two years old, his father was killed in the Sudanese civil war. Along with his mother and brother, Taban left his home in Jonglei to the Kakuma Refugee camp – an arid land with a multitude of foreign languages and cultures. There, Taban attended school as early as six in the morning and encountered wage limitations due to his refugee status. Yet he pursued every opportunity which came his way, becoming a self-made techie and boosting his work experience with several teaching jobs. Finally, after nearly 20 years and more than 10 applications, Taban has won a scholarship to study and work in Mexico through the Habesha Complementary Pathway Program, and will be resettled to Aguascalientes in early December. 


We recently sat down with Taban to chat about how he expects life to change. He gives us insight into the resettlement process, reflects on his time as an ICT trainer, and shares his thoughts on using tech to address the economic issues refugees face.


Taban’s interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Can you tell us about your journey from Sudan to the Kakuma Refugee Camp and your experience living in the camp?


I came to Kakuma when I was just two years old, that would have been 2004 on the 11th of March. Now, in the year of 2023, I have been in the Kakuma Refugee Camp for 19 years. I had my kindergarten education here, my primary school, my secondary school. I also did an ICT professional course for 1 year. 



I am originally from Sudan, and the main factor that brought me here to Kakuma was civil war. Back then, when my family used to live there, my dad was working with Doctors Without Borders. When he was killed, we left, and the UN brought us to Lokichogio. My home town was one of the most hostile places – and still is nowadays, one of the most hostile regions in Sudan. Its called Jonglei. It has a lot of rampart killing there, within the clans and tribes. Even if you search for it on the internet, they say Jonglei is a level four security risk. You can’t go a day without hearing a gunshot.



With the help of the UN, we came to Kakuma. Between Kakuma and my homeland, there is a big difference. Here in Kakuma the climate is not favorable. It’s in an arid part of Kenya – it’s just mountains, very dry. Maybe it will rain once a year. But after a lot of time, I have adapted to it. In 2005 I joined kindergarten here. Then in 2008 we had a lot of election violence in Kenya. In 2009 I joined primary school. After I got my certificate, joined the only refugee school in Kakuma. At least in my time it was one of the only refugee secondary schools. When I joined the [student] population was 854, so there had to be a system where there were two groups in one school. In Kenya, a normal class has around 45 students. But in my school since the population was very high we had to divide the school into two – school A and school B. I managed to get into school B, where we would start our lessons at six in the morning. And then, at 11:20 we would go on a bus to another class, and the school would ask them if we could attend. If we could, then we would work until six PM. It’s a very very hard learning. In the boarding schools and the public schools in Kenya, all students would take almost 8 to 12 hours learning, but in our case it would often be only four hours. But with a lot of hard work I managed to score 59 out of 84.



I have been applying for a number of scholarships, like Mastarcard and DAFI. Here, scholarships are associated with corruption, but I keep applying to them. Then the one for Mexico came up, and I applied. One of the reasons that I qualified for this one is because of this job that I am doing here, with Konexio. [Through this job] I’ve gotten a lot of recommendations and they published my story online.



Did you have any work experience before Konexio?


Before I was employed by Konexio I was teaching in a secondary school, where I taught for two academic years. And I was quite young while I was teaching there. Whenever I got to school, everyone asked me if I was really a teacher there. There was one scenario, where I was going to start school, and then suddenly I was stopped by the school principle. They asked me “Why are you not in your school uniform?” [laughs]. I said “No, I am a teacher here!” And this happens quite frequently. While teaching the girls [in the Digital Inclusion Program (DIP)], one time the security guy stopped me and was like “Woah, what are you doing here, why are you coming to this school?” I had to tell him I am a teacher. My students, the girls, had to tell them “oh yes, he is our teacher.” And then they let me through. It’s a bit funny. 



Are you living here with your family in the camp?


For the first 19 years, I have been living with my mother in the camp. We also live with my brother and the rest of my family. In Sudan, they promote these kinds of things, living with your family. But yes, of course I will have to leave them behind in the camp. [The prospect of moving to Mexico] is a situation that, before, was unbelievable. I have been telling my mom that I have been applying to these different scholarships. Whenever she asked me about them, the only thing I could tell her was “oh, the email, it started with ‘Unfortunately.’” And it was this word ‘unfortunately’ –  it kept coming up in my life. ‘Unfortunately,’ always! But yes, now she is very very happy – every mother wants her kid to go somewhere. So she can cope with it. 



You selected this program and applied for it – can you tell me a little about that process?


The program was actually shared by the UNHCR in Kakuma. They shared it through a WhatsApp group, and on Facebook. It was not Kakuma only, it was open to all of Kenya. I applied in late March, even Juma [the second DIP ICT trainer in Kakuma] helped me with some essays, with some ideas. We were in the Konexio training by that time. And then in July, I was called to interview. There were about 12 of us, and they were looking for four total. And then I thought, Taban, have confidence in this. You have been working so hard, like meeting with Adora [Konexio’s Lead Trainer] every now and then – you can manage these things. And then I got to the interview, which was a 2 hour interview asking me about my life’s story. And I told them the truth. I was even about to cry like at some points. And at long last they selected only 4 of us – two boys and two ladies. 



How do you feel about this significant change coming up in your life?


I feel a mix of nervousness and excitement. Kakuma has a lot of cultural diversity. Like we have more than 13 or 14 nationalities and different cultures. For you to be effective, you have to be smart about these differences. I have been quite good at adapting to different situations here – I have acquired this trait to get by in my life in Kakuma. But it’s going to be 100% different in Mexico! There they speak Spanish. Here, I only speak my own mother tongue, and Swahili and English. Adora has been helping me with Spanish. And now I can speak a little bit, like “¿Cómo estás? Muy bien. Mi nombre es Taban. Soy sudanesa.” So I have a little bit of Spanish, but not that much. I can introduce myself. “Tengo veintitrés años. He vivido en Sudán y México”… and that’s it [laughs]. But if Adora could hear my Spanish now, she would laugh at me. But slowly slowly. Learning is gradual.



Can you shed some light on the support and resources that have been provided to you during the resettlement process?


They told us that when we go to Mexico, for the first year, we will stay in a city in the central part, called Aguascalientes. It’s about six hours drive to Mexico city and fou hours drive to Guadalajara. This is where their program is, their office. Their other office is in Tijuana, because it’s not only a higher education program, it’s also a processing center for refugees and migrants at the US border. So for the first one year, I will be in Aguascalientes, in a language immersion program, and also we will do a bit of society integration. They want you to be Mexican – teaching you all the way of life in Mexico, their language and other aspects. After this, we will have to go to university. And they have a list of cities that you can apply for. Aguascalientes is one. In different cities they have partnered with public and private universities – and these universities are all prominent. And I will have a full scholarship. 



In terms of support – the first 4 years they will be supporting me, but then for the last year we will have to work. They have told us that they will give us guidelines to search for a jobs, and as I said they have many partners. The UN is their main partner. Once we go to Mexico, for the first 3 days, we will go to the UNHCR register to say we are new refugees in Mexico. 




How do you feel wrapping up your time as an ICT trainer with the Digital Inclusion Program?


​I don’t know what I can say. Personally, I am introverted. When i came here and I started working, I was a bit quiet. Not speaking so much. You know, Juma is a graduate with a computer science degree. He has been helping me a lot. In terms of software, writing codes. He helps with such problems, like how I can help fix student laptops when they have problems. Leaving the whole Kakuma team, it’s a big thing. I am not feeling that prepared. But nobody is rooted, we have to go. 


For this last bit of time, I am using every second. I am trying my best, and I research how to incorporate new ideas into the lesson plans which are not in the curriculum but are very helpful for job searching. Me and Juma have been searching for new ideas on how you can simplify the job search. 



What are your aspirations and goals for the future, both in terms of your personal development and your contributions to society in your new home?


My goal is all about using technology to address the problem that society is facing. Here at Kakuma, we face a lot of challenges. And if there are problems, there must be solutions. If there is one thing that I have seen in Kakuma, there is not a lot of employment. When I came to Konexio, I see that we have a solution to this – we can use technology to address this problem. Refugees in Kakuma get paid less than $100 a month – it’s quite low. And the cost of living is getting higher. And I see that we can take people to the freelance marketplace, and to microworking sites, so that they can earn a living there. It has been my goal since I was in secondary school. I got affiliated with this kind of thing maybe in 2009 while watching SciFi movies. One of my long term goals is taking up a technology where you can help people change society. 



What was your favorite movie growing up?


One of my favorite series is Mr. Robot. And then for movies, Who Am I – it’s a German movie. And then also the Avengers. I like Marvel and DC movies. I also watch a lot of historical documentaries. We have this story I have been watching about the KGB Russian spy that was poisoned in London. Also, we have the one about Yassar Arafat, the one that died in 2004. Also, there is a good documentary on Western Darfur, in Sudan. It’s being made by all the NGOs on the genocide and the ethnic cleansing that is being done by the government in that region. 



What advice would you give to other refugees who aspire to rebuild their lives and careers in a new country?


My advice to all refugees within Kakuma is working smart and working hard. I don’t believe in luck. Try every opportunity, you never know what God has planned for you. By trying you are not failing in that area, you will keep on building on your competencies. Before I got this opportunity to Mexico, I applied to more than 10 scholarships. By the time I was applying to this scholarship that I have just secured, I had a lot of confidence. I had this confidence in the interview, and even in the essay writing. The more you keep failing, the more you will keep learning and believing in yourself.

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