Kenya: Opening opportunities through education
06 August 2013

A student completes course work in June 2013 at the Jesuit Refugee Service and Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins project at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya The projects brings university-level classes to refugees. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Kakuma, Kenya) August 6, 2013 — If you had asked me a month ago what I was walking into when I interned with Jesuit Refugee Service, specifically with their Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM) program here at Kakuma refugee camp, I honestly could not tell you what I expected.  Maybe small classes, some online programs and a couple of dedicated students.

I never imagined the variety of programs, the opportunities it gives, the number of students in each program and each class. Classes full of leaders within the communities, who want to know how to better serve and help their communities. JC-HEM is not just a collegiate degree program, it is a chance to start something new, to learn how to properly go about certain things such as business proposals and referrals within the communities.

This program has had such an amazing impact within the community. Many of the staff members, Information Technology assistants, teachers of the professional and certificate programs are refugees who are in the process of earning a diploma or have earned certain certificates.

Amazing work of JC-HEM students 

The students in the degree program truly make this experience and this program what it is. One professor mentioned this: "The student work has been insightful and generally very well written. These students are amazing." The strong desire to learn, and to make an impact in their communities is evident. The refugee students are open to education, to new ideas, to new topics, about other cultures and languages.  

The time commitment each of them puts into these classes is truly extraordinary. Not only do many of them have jobs in the camp, but every week they have two discussion questions to answer along with constant essay writing and readings. This is not uncommon for anyone in an American University, but these students only have internet at the Pedro Arrupe Center, which is only open during the day until 5:30 p.m., and for only six days a week. Which means they have to balance work, home and have to travel long miles through the camp in the heat and blazing sun.

An enriching experience

As an intern, even though I was only able to spend a month here, I have had the amazing opportunity to observe, work one on one with them and hear their stories. They are so proud of where they came from, even if they know they will take a long time before going back to their countries. 

They are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn and the chance to start over. The only question they seem to ask or worry about in terms of resettlement and their future is simply, "what’s next?" What’s next in terms of their education, in terms of what they can do, regarding their lives.

If I had to describe these students in one word, it would be hopeful. They know this is opening doors for them and all they want to know is what they can do next. 

by Allison Laclede, intern in the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins program at Kakuma. Allison is a student at Virginia Tech University.

Jesuit Refugee Service began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in northwestern Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and currently hosts around 120,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counseling and vocational training program, pastoral care, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.

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