By Melany Markham Communications Officer, LWF Kenya/Djibouti
Ali Addeh, Djibouti, 28 September (LWF) — Robai Naliaka is trying to give the children of Ali Addeh the same legacy her mother gave her – an education.
Robai coordinates the refugee camp at Ali Addeh for the Lutheran World Federation, a member of the ACT Alliance. She is passionate about empowering and transforming people’s lives in her work with Somali refugees in Djibouti, a country in the north east of Africa.
She says he mother was a strong willed woman who wanted the best for her children. Robai’s father had four wives and she was one of 22 children. Resources were limited, so her mother had to fight hard to make sure that her children went to school.
Growing up in Kenya, Robai originally wanted to become a doctor, but over the years has realised that education enables her to impart a sense of hope and future to people. At an early age Robai was excited about education.
“I was privileged to be topping the class every now and then. My mother and siblings helped pay for me to go to Limuru Girls in Kimbu [a prestigious Kenyan school]. It was an opportunity to break out of the village mentality,” she said.
After she left school, Robai worked with street children for two years, an experience that ignited her passion for education. She has worked for various NGOs over the years, mostly with children and youth and joined LWF in January, 2011.
Djibouti’s desert landscape is dramatic even though it is one of Africa’s smallest countries with a landmass of 23,200 square kilometres and only about 800,000 people making up its population.
Robai is one of only two Christian staff in the LWF office in Djibouti, but says, the country challenges her to understand people.
“For me…more than before, living a life that reflects Christ is what works, especially within a Muslim community … there is no moment when I am not saying I am Christian. It is about how I do my work,” says Robai. Her beliefs, combined with her passion for education mean her job in Djibouti is her true vocation.
“If we do not focus on education, nothing else will be able to bring us out of the experience of living in a family where resources were always scarce,” says Robai.
In sub-Saharan Africa, there are almost 10 million school-aged children who do not attend school. The situation in Ali Addeh, about 130 kilometres south of Djibouti-Ville, the capital of Djibouti, reflect this.
Of the 4,500 who are school-aged, only 2,014 regularly attend. There is still cause for optimism, however. When the LWF first started working in the camp, only 1,300 children attended Wadajir Primary School – the only school in Ali Addeh.
Robai and her colleagues are constantly asked to provide an English curriculum, but, as Djibouti is French-speaking the LWF is trying harmonize between both Kenyan and Djibouti curricula. Although the Kenyan curriculum is generally acceptable in East Africa, refugees aiming to be global citizens can more easily fit into any part of the world.
Students can only go to Djibouti secondary schools if they use the French language, but many refugees do not want to go into this system. Many refugee children do not know English, the official language in the camp school.
Language is, however, only one challenge the school faces. Students also lack proper text books and they don’t have enough resources to teach the current curriculum.
Finding qualified teachers is not easy. Most of the teachers are relatively young and, as they teach parts of the Kenyan curriculum, there is no educational qualification in Djibouti that matches the jobs they have.
There are also very few trained teachers among the refugee community and a high turnover among the teaching staff who are trained.
The LWF is therefore forming a partnership with a National Teacher Training Centre in Djibouti to second local teachers to the camp. Even so, properly qualified Kenyan teachers will not be found in Djibouti, so some teachers will need to come from Kenya.
“We need to lay a good foundation,” says Robai, “We have approached donors to fund a pre-school and Diakonie has agreed to pilot a program. Kindergarten and grade one will go to these schools and our target is 1,000 students in October.” Many people are only concerned about basic literacy, so the quality of education can remain static over time. A pre-school would provide students with a good foundation for a comprehensive education..
Still, when any of the senior students in Wadajir Primary, speak there is only one question they have, “When is the high school coming?”
The LWF needs to work with many stakeholders because the primary school is still trying to meet the standards of the Kenyan curriculum so bridging classes are needed.
“Meaningful education here must continue….children do not see the value of education. Secondary education will bring so much hope in the camp,” says Robai.
“To see a secondary school in Ali Addeh would be a mission accomplished,” she says.
Mustafa Warssama, the principal of Wadajir Primary has lived as a refugee since 1991, so he knows the struggles off his students and is realistic about their future.
For the next few years at least, most will continue to live in Ali Addeh. Unlike many other countries, refugees are free to go wherever they wish in Djibouti, but Mustafa says that this is difficult because the country is small and the land is not fertile, leaving limited opportunities.
One in 10 of the refugees in Ali Addeh are resettled to another country. For the majority who aren’t resettled, the only other option is repatriation back to Somalia. Mustafa is optimistic this could happen over the next 10 years and this is why he wants to teach his pupils more than simply how to read and write. “Most of them are born in the camp and know nothing of their country,” he says.
The LWF has already made it easier for girls to go to school. The school is less than three kilometres away from the camp and there are no fees. However, girls still comprise less than 50 percent of the total number of students, one of the reasons being a lack of female teachers – something the LWF is trying to rectify.
Robai is grateful to all the partners, donors and friends for bringing hope to the lives and friends of refugees in Djibouti and says that it is a privilege to be able to participate in the long-term solution of education.
“Out of those rocky hills and valleys, somehow there is a path being carved out for refugees to get to their destination,” she says. Perhaps this path will lead them back to Somalia, when there is finally peace and they will need educated people to rebuild.
As Mustafa says, “Let us hope, let us dream, that every refugee can go back to their village.”