Education is essential in any community to foster innovation, social and economic development, and hope for a better future. But in Kenya’s refugee camps where school-aged children are desperate to learn, the right to education too often ends at the primary level and too many students compete for the too few spaces in secondary schools let alone the rare opportunity to attend a university or college. WUSC has been working in the Dadaab and Kakuma regions of Kenya with our key partner Windle Trust Kenya since the mid-80s to address these issues by increasing the number of girls attending secondary schools, by improving the quality of education in the refugee camps and by providing opportunities for tertiary education in Canada.
The impact of WUSC’s programs in Kenya can be felt far beyond its borders. As a country of asylum situated in a troubled region, Kenya has hosted significant number of refugees from a variety of fragile countries over the years. WUSC and our partners have worked within the Kenyan education system to improve the quality of schooling and to increase the number of girls studying at higher levels in the refugee camps. Through our programs, more refugee girls, their families and their communities understand the importance of education and are accessing the few secondary and tertiary opportunities available to them.
But our programming also has impact beyond Kenya and the camps. For many years refugee students from southern Sudan studied in Canada through the WUSC’s Student Refugee Program. With the achievement of independence of the Republic of Southern Sudan, many of these students have now returned to provide the necessary trained human resources in government, civil society and other areas to contribute to the development of their new country. Other examples include former Somali students who are working in their home country through the UN and former child soldiers now prosecuting war criminals at the Arusha International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
In Canada, thousands of students every year support our Kenyan programming and as a result become more knowledgeable, active and engaged in refugee and international development issues. Many of these students go on to careers in international development with government, multilateral institutions and civil society organizations that strive for equitable international cooperation.
Strength of partnerships: The success of the Student Refugee Program relies on the commitment and dedication of a number of partners. From the Canadian student volunteers, to the university and college institutions, the Government of Canada, through Citizenship and Immigration, the Government of Québec, UNHCR, IOM, local partners and donors, each stakeholder is critical to the successful implementation of the program and successfully managing these partnerships needs to be a top priority.
Aiming towards gender equality: There are many cultural reasons behind the gender disparity in secondary schools in the refugee camps:
- Girls are responsible for most domestic work. As household survival depends on girls’ domestic work, it is given priority over attending school. Domestic work also limits girls’ time for studying at home or attending extra classes.
- Poverty often forces girls to supplement household income by taking on jobs or staying at home to enable other family members to work.
- Early marriage: Upon reaching puberty many girls are removed from school for protection reasons while awaiting marriage. Alternatively, if married at an early age, they drop out of school to take on the burden of domestic work.
- The practice of female circumcision triggers health problems and more absences from school.
- Lack of access to sanitary napkins and lack of privacy in schools means that some girls miss several days of school every month during menstruation.
- Shyness and minority status in the class gives girls less confidence to ask questions to understand their schoolwork.
Confronting such cultural practices can be challenging but through targeted interventions with the girls, their families and their communities, it is possible to reduce their effects. WUSC’s Shine the Light program that provides solar lamps for studying after dark and remedial education to girls on weekends and holidays has helped reduce the gender gaps at secondary schools with the active and willing participation of their communities.