The Invisible City [Kakuma]

Can you build a home in a place called nowhere? Filmmaker Lieven Corthouts films with a group of teenage friends over more than four years in one of Kenya’s largest refugee camps, Kakuma. In The Invisible City he unveils their prospects for making a life, getting an education and finding meaningful work. Can camps like Kakuma really offer them a future? Or is it just a waiting room, where the only option is to plan your journey to Europe.

Can you build a home in a place called nowhere?

Kakuma is a refugee camp built along a lonely lost road in the middle of the Turkana desert (Kenya). Kakuma means “nowhere” in the local language. However, after 20 years of existence, it has become the fastest growing city in the region. There are schools, shops, a transport system, banks, elections, and so on. It is a place of opportunities where 200,000 people from 14 nationalities manage to build a vibrating society, with almost no conflicts.

Many of the new arrivals in Kakuma are children sent out of conflict zones by their parents. With limitless energy, these children grab all opportunities in the camp to rebuild their life. Nyakong (8 years old) has recently been brought to Kakuma by her mother, who then went back home to South-Sudan. While waiting for her mother to return, Nyakong starts to go to school and gradually settles into her new life. Subsequently, at the age of 17, teenagers like Claude and Khadijo build their own house, get a job, even compete for international scholarships.

The Invisible City wants to give an inside view in that life phase, where children are on the verge of adulthood and make decisions about their life and future. Can a camp really offer a future? Or is it just a waiting room, where the only option is to plan your journey to Europe? Kakuma is not simply a place to stay or a place to leave behind, it is the place where they make their ultimate decisions. And one thing is certain, these young adults have not learned to sit around waiting.

Filmmaker Lieven Corthouts decided to stay in one of the toughest places on earth and make a camp his home. While filming his friends for more than four years, he unveils the true dynamics of today’s refugee camps.

At the same time, Lieven goes beyond the filmmaker’s purely observing role. In order to speed up family reunification, he has implemented a mobile application in the camp. The story continues in our interactive documentary FIND ME IN KAKUMA: will Nyakong and Claude find back their parents?

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