By Lokiru Matendo, Program Coordinator, LWF Kenya/Djibouti
As daylight finally overcomes the dark of night, thousands of camp residents emerge from their heavily fenced homesteads and pour on the narrow streets of the expansive Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. From each household come one, two or at times up to five individuals. Most are children aged 5-17, but it is not uncommon to find as young as 3 year-olds or as old as 25 year-olds.
The processions they quickly form lead them to various schools within the camp, where they spend most of their day in search of hope for their future. This scenario is also observable each school day Ali Adde refugee camp in Djibouti. The two camps have one thing in common – DWS Kenya/Djibouti Programme was responsible for managing refugee education activities in 2010, on behalf of the respective Governments and the UNHCR.
Kakuma refugee camp hosted about 80,000 refugees by the end of 2010, most of them Somali nationals fleeing ongoing fighting and instability in their country. Others include the Sudanese, Ethiopians and refugees from the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The vast majority of the refugee population (35%) was of school-going-age, of whom a significant proportion was either born in the camp, has lived most of their lives in the camp, or is likely to live in the camp for most of their future lives. This reality informs the high demand for education by the refugees at the camps.
When DWS Kenya was invited to implement educational activities in Ali Adde refugee camp in Djibouti in 2009, an opportunity was availed to encounter more people (about 13,000) uprooted from their home countries and hosted in less-than-optimal circumstances, especially as far as realizing their life dreams and aspirations is concerned! Within a year, enrolment had risen by 40%to a total of about 2,000 children, literally turning Wadajir primary school (the only school) to a ‘heartbeat’ of the camp. Visiting the camp in 2010, it was unmistakable that there was a drastic renewal of commitment, a sort of revolution, in the way education was supported and facilitated, to the joy of refugees. The refugees and all partners together, under the leadership of DWS, had managed to start the process of improving a much sought-after right – education!
Towards the end of 2010, DWS Kenya was once more invited to manage education in yet another refugee camp in Kenya. With a population larger than Kakuma’s, over 100,000 with over 35,000 school-going population), Hagadera camp presented even tougher challenges in terms of educational access and quality. By the close of 2010, plans had been concluded for DWS Kenya, in partnership with UNHCR, to start running six primary schools in January 2011.
Over the years, the refugees have always prioritized education in every encounter with DWS staff. The case of the Sudanese is handy. When they were the majority in Kakuma, their leaders and the youth were often quoted expressing top preference for education: “deny us food but give us education; it is the only benefit we will take back home for our country’s development”, they would assert! Indeed, after the signing of the Sudan peace agreement in 2005, scores of educated youth applied their knowledge, skills and experience in the numerous opportunities with Government, UN and NGOs dealing with relief and reconstruction. The author happened to meet a few former Kakuma refugees in Juba, Sudan in November 2010 and their story was clear; “thanks to education, we have hope”.
For the Somali refugee population in the Horn of Africa, does not have to just expect how critical education is to them, but can actually witness it every day as newly arriving refugees stream to the already-filled schools in search of admission. Refugees have also initiated numerous own efforts to provide education to their children. As the two-decade-long instability in their country continues, and the fact that a lasting solution is seemingly not eminent in the foreseeable future, it is no wonder that their hope revolves around education.
As 2010 came to a close, some of us who periodically visit the projects to support DWS Kenya/Djibouti work often pondered on the special responsibility increasingly being put on the shoulders of DWS –taking the lead in facilitating the fulfillment of a generation’s dreams and aspirations day by day, camp by camp! As we look forward to 2011 and beyond, we are conscious of this duty and will rely on every support and partnership to make a lasting difference in a generation’s future.