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Reconnecting Refugees in Kakuma, a UNHCR-administered Refugee Camp in North West Kenya | Thoughtworks

Reconnecting refugees through the 'Find Me' app

The challenge of reconnecting unaccompanied child refugees with their loved ones is a growing problem with the refugee crisis. In Kakuma refugee camp filmmaker Lieven Corthouts sought out a solution after living there and talking with refugees struggling to find their families. Thoughtworks collaborated with Lieven to design and user test a web application with refugees to address the problem, and set out the steps to trial a full solution in Kakuma.




Kakuma is a UNHCR administered refugee camp in North West Kenya, near the border with South Sudan. The camp’s population exceeded 193,000 people as of June 2016, of which 53% were South Sudanese. Almost 12,700 South Sudanese children have been registered by UNHCR as unaccompanied or separated (UNHCR, 2016).


Lieven has been in Kakuma for much of the last five years. While filming a documentary about the experiences of three young refugees in the camp, and seeing first-hand how difficult the process of reunification is, he conceived the idea for the Find Me application.


Thoughtworks worked with Lieven to shape his vision: To help refugees in Kakuma find missing relatives through a web application which refugees are both involved in designing and, by its design, are given choice and self-determinism. From here, the 3 core principles of the app were defined as:


  • Child safety is paramount: Minimise human interaction and limit data collected
  • Community-led, community-driven: Through conception, promotion and facilitation
  • Keep it simple: Simple user interface, utilising technologies familiar to refugees



Thoughtworks assembled a cross-functional team of consultants, including software developers, and completed a process of discovery to gather insights about Kakuma and the life of refugees there. This allowed a design for the Find Me app to progress, which was developed into a prototype and user tested directly with refugees in the camp. User testing exposed challenges in how refugees interact with technology, and raised business questions relating to the operation of the application.

I really appreciate the time and effort Thoughtworks put into the making of the user interface. During user testing in Kakuma, whenever I asked for new updates they always did it in conversation with me and the people in Kakuma.
Lieven Corthouts

The next step in the process would be a live trial of a fully functional product in Kakuma, and Thoughtworks shaped a proposal around how this could be run to collect refugee data and measure how effectively records could be matched. Importantly, this would require accounting for challenges around child protection and ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place in the operating model and the broader organisation.

Thoughtworks is proud to have taken Lieven Corthouts’ initial concept forward, building a prototype and testing with refugees in Kakuma, and being able to present the research and next steps. Preview Find Me on your phone.

Thoughtworks understand the necessity of lean and agile development for communities we are less familiar with. Their dedication and responsiveness are remarkable.
Emmy Oost
Founder and Producer, Cassette for Timescapes

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