Kenya: Reflections on my first school visit
01 July 2011

JRS sponsors refugee students who perform well or have special needs to schools across Kenya. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
"It impressed and encouraged me to hear that majority of the students sponsored by JRS perform, behave and have integrated well with their fellow Kenyan students."
Kakuma, 1 July 2011 – Sr Margret Mwarili, a JRS worker in Kakuma refugee camp, has recently returned from visiting 13 schools across Kenya where JRS-sponsored refugees students pursue their education. The JRS team visits them three times in a year to offer support and follow up on their social and academic progress. This is a major undertaking given that Kakuma is located in a remote part of Kenya with poor infrastructure and schools are located in various parts of the country. In this article, she shares her experience: 

The JRS driver and I left Kakuma for our ten day journey early in the morning. We had packed the pick-up truck with basic items for the students: learning materials, uniforms, mattresses and various other things the different schools require the students to have. I also carried a big bottle of drinking water for you never know if you will make it through the Turkana semi-desert in one day. 

Since the area is considered insecure, a police escort provided security for the 120km trip from Kakuma to Lodwar town, where we visited 16 refugee girls at a primary school and another three schools in areas close by. Then we proceeded on a four hours drive to Marich, a trading center where the police escort left us. In nearby Chepareria we visited a secondary school. 

From Chepareria, we passed through various towns visiting more refugee students: Kapenguria, Webuye, Bungoma, Mumias and Kisumu. After six days we reached Kericho, the centre of the tea industry in Kenya’s rift valley province. 

Discussing personal challenges 
In most of the schools we visited the school administration gave us a warm welcome and ample time to be with our sponsored refugee students. 

In fact, students in the different schools were very happy to see us. It was no problem that I had not met many of them before, they opened up quickly and we talked in depth about their studies and academic progress as well as social, emotional and spiritual issues they face. 

Most of them have settled in well. They are happy with their schools and enjoy the activities offered. They have access to well-equipped learning facilities and to services offered by well trained, qualified and professional teachers. 

Though we had come with some basic items for each student the reason for our visit went way beyond the logistic purpose. Given the unusual background of our students, we made sure we discussed with both students and teachers the particular challenges they face. 

JRS has offered scholarships to outstandingly performing primary and secondary students as well as students with special needs from Kakuma refugee camp, north-west Kenya since 1997. A group JRS particularly focuses on are girls whose education is threatened because of early or forced marriage or abduction.

Refugee students integrated well 

It impressed and encouraged me to hear that majority of the students sponsored by JRS perform, behave and have integrated well with their fellow Kenyan students. It particularly touched me to see how school life had transformed the ones who had just been admitted two months ago. They had made friends and adjusted to the new environment. 

I remember one moment particularly well: A 9-year-old Sudanese boy with a hearing impairment, who had never been to a boarding school before thought he could come back to Kakuma with us. Obviously he was missing his family. When he saw us, he left his fellow refugee students behind and ran towards the car, ready to leave. But a girl took him back to the school compound and explained in sign language that we were only visiting and that he would still have to wait a couple more weeks for holidays to come. 
It was touching to see her take care of the little boy and I was impressed to see how much his sign language had improved. He could now communicate much more. 

Encouragement and hope 

I also remember a group of blind children who have never been to a boarding school before. They needed help in learning how to use their flip flops and mosquito nets and were grateful for the help we provided. Their big smiles were enough reward for the whole trip. 

Even though it was a long journey, I felt that it was worthwhile because our presence encouraged the refugee children and motivated them to excel in their studies. 

On behalf of these children, I would like to thank everyone who contributes to their education as a sponsor or a donor through JRS. Their generosity helps transform these children’s lives and gives them a reason to have hope in the future.