Kenya: Opening opportunities through education
30 July 2013

A JC-HEM programme student conducting her studies online at the Pedro Arrupe Centre that is ran by JRS at Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)
I never imagined the variety of programmes, the opportunities it gives, the number of students in each programme and each class.
Kakuma, 30 July 2013 - If you had asked me a month ago, what I was walking into when I interned with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), specifically with their Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM) programme here at Kakuma, I honestly could not tell you what I expected.  Maybe small classes, some online programmes and a couple of dedicated students.

I never imagined the variety of programmes, the opportunities it gives, the number of students in each programme and each class. Classes full of leaders within the communities, who want to know how to better serve and help their communities. JC-HEM is not just a collegiate degree programme, it is a chance to start something new, to learn how to properly go about certain things such as business proposals and referrals within the communities.

This programme has had such an amazing impact within the community. Many of the staff members, Information Technology (IT) assistants, teachers of the professional and certificate programmes are refugees who are in the process of earning a diploma or have earned certain certificates.

Amazing work of JC-HEM students. The students in the degree programme truly make this experience and this programme what it is. One professor mentioned this, “The student work has been insightful and generally very well written.  These students are amazing.” The strong desire to learn, and to make an impact in their communities is evident. They are open to education, to new ideas, to new topics, about other cultures and languages.  The time commitment each of them puts into these classes is truly extraordinary. Not only do many of them have jobs, but every week they have 2 discussion questions to answer along with constant essay writing and readings. This is not uncommon for anyone in an American University, but these students only have internet at the Pedro Arrupe Center, which is only open during the day until 5:30pm and for only 6 days a week. Which means they have to balance work, home and have to travel long miles in the heat and blazing sun.

An enriching experience. As an intern, even though I was only able to spend a month here, I have had the amazing opportunity to observe, work one on one with them and hear their stories. They are so proud of where they came from, even if they know they will take a long time before going back to their countries. They are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn and the chance to start over. The only question they seem to ask or worry about in terms of resettlement and their future is simply, “what’s next?” What’s next in terms of their education, in terms of what they can do, regarding their lives.

If I had to describe these students in one word, it would be hopeful. They know this is opening doors for them and all they want to know is what they can do next. 

By Allison Laclede, JC-HEM Intern JRS Kakuma from Virginia Tech University, USA.

JRS began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in north-western Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and currently hosts around 120,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counselling and vocational training programme, pastoral care, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.