As the world remains fascinated and horrified by the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the spotlight on the camps in Kenya has waned over time as interest in such issues often does. The refugee camps in Kenya are amongst the oldest and the largest settlements of refugees in the world. Kakuma and Dadaab are home to nearly 600,000 refugees who fled civil unrest and the war in neighbouring Somalia and South Sudan, with others from Ethiopia, Burundi, and the DRC. To visit these areas is to see functioning towns with businesses, schools and hospitals that serve populations that rival the most metropolitan cities. Last month, the government of Kenya disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs in an effort to begin to process of closing Dadaab, the world’s largest settlement of Somali refugees. The international community has criticized the Kenyan government for this move, calling it “a grave breach of the principles non-refoulment” which protects refugees and asylum seekers from returning to areas in which they will be persecuted or harmed. The government, in turn, is stating that after hosting these refugees for over two decades, it must now prioritize its own interests and national security in light of increased threats carried out by terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for last year’s massacre at Garissa University as well as the assault at Westgate mall in 2013.
As politicians and aid organizations debate the best course of action, it is easy to forget that any decision will have an irrevocable effect on these populations. For years, top international organizations have worked in these camps to provide basic services including food, healthcare and education. The World University Service of Canada (WUSC), in partnership with Windle Trust Kenya, run the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP) whose work is centered on improving girls’ access to education in host and refugee communities. The project began in 2013 and is primarily funded by the UK Aid through their ‘Girls Education Challenge’ program. This project works with teachers, community members, and parents to achieve three main objectives, which are at the core of girls’ success in education: performance, attendance and transition.
Although the project’s focus is on girls, it also strives for community inclusiveness, as the success of the project is dependent upon support from all community members. Programs such as Educating Boys and Men, which is held in partnership with the White Ribbon organization, works on strategies to include boys in the discussion on the potential and value of girls education in a given community. Gender responsive pedagogy workshops are held for teachers, which highlight strategies on engaging with girls in the classroom. From after school club programs to remedial classes, the project provides invaluable work and support to the host and refugee communities.
I work as a Monitoring and Evaluation intern at the WUSC office based in Nairobi. As such, I travel to the camps to conduct interviews with students and learn from their experiences with KEEP, as well as any challenges they may still face. In Kakuma, the girls I interviewed spoke with such confidence and positivity on the opportunities that KEEP has provided for them. Almost all girls have stated that they hope to attend post-secondary school in Canada so they may continue their education and return to their towns to inspire positive and sustainable change in their communities. I return to Kakuma next week for World Refugee Day and to work closely with the Engaging Men and Boys program.
Due to security concerns, I have not traveled to Dadaab. It is difficult to state for a certainty what will happen to the project should the camps in Dadaab close. As Somalia remains in a fragile state of affairs, repatriation of thousands of Somalis will prove to be precarious. Many towns and cities remain under serious threat from environmental issues including drought and food insecurity, to bombings of hotels and public spaces. With such a status quo, it is hard to comprehend, if at all, how towns and schools will manage potential large enrollments of students into schools so these students from Dadaab can continue their education.
In spite of these concerns, I do hope to travel to Dadaab. After my trip to Kakuma, I expect the students in Dadaab to be as fascinating and engaging as those in Kakuma. I also hope to hear community leaders’ thoughts on the closing of the camps. There is considerable discussion on this topic in my community, both in Toronto and here in Nairobi. As my family and I left the Horn of Africa to seek better opportunities in Canada, admittedly it will be difficult to not mirror these students experiences with that of my own. I could have been a part of them, were it not for strategic planning on the part of my parents as well as a welcoming immigration policy in the early 1990s by the Canadian government. It is distressing to watch world leaders argue over policies and national security without any mention of the students whose education will be interrupted by repatriation as well as the social and personal ties of those who were born in these communities and feel no connection to their parent’s homeland. As a development practitioner, the goal is to find lasting solutions to complex issues such as these ones. Forced and voluntary migration of an entire population is proving to be the most complex and arduous challenge of our time. It is important for all to remember that to deny entry and rights to an individual that is seeking a better life is to deny the growth of an innovator or strategic thinker who may cure diseases, make new discoveries and develop new software or hardware that will improve the lives of the thousands in their community. My goal for this internship is focused on the sheer potential of these students, by learning from them and perhaps finding opportunities to help them reach their goals. I would ask you all to do the same.
Kadra Rayale is a student in cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Her background is in history and political science, and she holds certificates in Refugee and Migration Studies, Law and Social Thought and Bilingualism (English and French). Her research interests include forced and voluntary migration trends and climate change.