Kenya: higher education delivers a learning experience
23 September 2013

Liz Lock, the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Coordinator at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, during her video interview in June 2013. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)
They have been the pioneers and have thus made us able to improve the programme one step at a time, and they have been of invaluable help.
Kakuma, Kenya, 23 September 2013 — Liz Lock, the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Coordinator at Kakuma camp in Kenya, shares her personal experience working with students at the camp where approximately 120,000 refugees reside, hailing from a dozen different countries. The Jesuit Refugee Service has worked with refugees in the camp since 1994.

I have been working for Jesuit Refugee Service in Kakuma as the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) Coordinator for a little more than two years now.

I came to Kakuma a month after finishing my master's degree to work as a facilitator for a community development and organisation track of JC:HEM. In addition to helping develop a site-relevant curriculum for the course, I was put in charge of the 2010 diploma cohort. This meant helping to communicate with professors in the US and assisting students by explaining assignments or editing papers. I have carried out my role of supporting this cohort through my transition to my current position. It is this cohort that will graduate today, after completing three years in the JC:HEM programme.


While I wasn't here from the very beginning, as the programme started some eight months before my arrival, I still acknowledge I've learned a lot from my time with the students. Between monthly meetings discussing benefits and challenges of both the specific classes and the programme as a whole, and regular individual meetings, interviews, and conversations, I feel I know the group fairly well. And through that knowledge or because of it, I'm immeasurably proud of their success in completing an intense, three year higher education programme.

This group of students, as with all of the others, have jobs, families, outside commitments. They have travelled across the vast camp regularly to meet with fellow students, submit assignments and conduct research. They have shared books and battled through assignments that didn't make sense to them, and dealt with demanding professors and difficult class subjects they felt they were not well versed in. They have been the pioneers and have thus made us able to improve the programme one step at a time, and they have been of invaluable help.

Many of them don't know what will happen next; as with any major goal completed there are many options but no set paths. I don't know what their next steps will be, although I hope to support them in whatever way possible. But I do know they will all achieve something amazing. Whether they become leaders and return to change their home countries, or get resettled and transform refugee policy in their host countries, they will create reforms. Their paths could lead them in many different directions.

I also recognise, from the little I know of each of them, that they will make a difference in their families and communities. They will create change in the world because they all see aspects of their worlds that need to be changed. They will make a difference and we will all be proud to have played a role in their lives, no matter how small.

Liz Lock, JC:HEM Coordinator at Kakuma camp, JRS Kenya