Educating refugees

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I've just had the privilege of visiting refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya.

Home to over 170,000 people the camps have provided a safe haven for refugees fleeing conflict for over 15 years, starting with the flight of people from neighbouring Somalia in 1991. The majority of people living in the camps are still Somali, though there are also refugees from Sudan, Uganda, the Congo and other countries in conflict. Many have lived in Dadaab for over a decade, unable to return to homes still embroiled in chaos.

In the camps UNHCR and international non-government organisations are working hard to improve the quality of life of the refugees. One of the biggest and most impressive contributions they have made is to education.

Over the years primary and secondary schools have  been established in the camps. Staffed by refugee teachers, the vast majority of whom have had no formal teacher training, the schools have nevertheless achieved amazing results, sending a growing number of refugee students on scholarships, supported by the Windle Trust, to both Kenyan and international universities.

Having seen the opportunities that education can provide, the demand for it among the refugees has grown significantly. But there aren't enough resources to meet that growing demand and as a result the education system within the camps is under enormous pressure.

As well as lobbying agencies for increased support the refugees are developing their own solutions. Three community based secondary schools have been established in the camps, entirely funded by the refugees themselves. These schools will cater for the growing number of primary graduates who because of insufficient secondary school places have been deprived the opportunity to attend the three official, publicly funded secondary schools in the camps.

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The growth in girls enrolment, in a culture where girls don't usually attend school, is equally remarkable. Whilst boys still outnumber girls in classroom by about 3 to 1, it's very clear that there is growing community support to ensure that all girls go to school.

I came away with a host of ideas for supporting education in the camps and hope that I'll be able to find the funding to implement at least some of them. I'll keep you posted.

A version of this article also appeared on my Ode Magazine Blog.