The story of ODWEP is a refugee story, and an African story, and a human story. Our ODWEP team consists of young men and women from many different countries in Central and East Africa who met at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. We are part of a generation that grew up when our native countries were battered by war or experienced the devastation of extreme poverty, or both. Some of us fled from our homes with our families; others lost our families to the chaos and brutality of war and came to Kakuma alone.
We are an African generation confronting questions about poverty and war, about natural resources and living together, about HIV/AIDS, about the relationship between men and women and between tradition and progress, and the relationship between Africa and the world.
The Founding of ODWEP
The founder of ODWEP, Shogonya Mnyonge, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1993. A few years after his birth, civil war broke out, with governments of surrounding countries becoming involved and supporting either the rebels or the Congolese government. In the midst of war, Shogonya’s family left the country, and when he was a child, like tens of thousands of Congolese he lived in Nyarugusu refugee camp and Lugufu refugee camp, both in Tanzania.
At Lugufu, Shogonya was temporarily separated from his parents (who were outside the camp) but despite his personal hardships he began to notice that some people were suffering even more than he was. When he was reunited with his family in 2009 and they moved together to Kakuma, he told his parents that he wanted to start an organization that would fight for the most vulnerable and voiceless in the camp population. Thus was born ODWEP: Orphans, Disabled, Widows, and Educational Programs. Our mission and vision have expanded through the years and now we are ODWEP: Overcoming Devastation and Opening Doors to Wholeness, Empowerment, and Possibility.
The ODWEP approach
There are international aid agencies at Kakuma, and we are grateful for their help; without their help, it is certain that far more of us would die. Yet because their staffs are under-resourced and over-worked, they are intent on the quickest possible resolution to refugee needs and problems. This translates into the common scenario that we have all experienced as refugees: someone from an aid agency sits with you at a table and quickly decides for you what they think your needs are and what is best for you.
The ODWEP approach is that any durable solution to a social problem requires the empowerment of those suffering from the problem. ODWEP puts the capacities, agency, rights, and dignity of the people we are working with at the center of all our programming.