Kenya: Twelve refugee students graduate at Kakuma
24 October 2009

A refugee woman studies at the JRS education center at Kakuma refugee camp through the UNISA program. (Dani Villanueva SJ/JRS)
"I felt honoured to be among people who, in spite of their complicated backgrounds and of the circumstances they live in have managed to carry on with their education."
Kakuma, 24 October 2009 — Twelve JRS-sponsored refugee students from Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda obtained their degrees at Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya. Three students who have participated in the distance tertiary education programme with the University of South Africa (UNISA), obtained their Bachelor of Art in communications and sociology after nine years of studies while nine students of the Kenya Institute of Social Work and Community Development (KISWCD) received their diploma certificates in community health and community development after two years of studies.

The graduation ceremony started with a procession lead by the guest of honor, JRS Country Director Christine Mwaniki and KISWCD Principal Jackson Wachira. It was followed by several speeches by JRS Kakuma Project Director, Hezekiah Ronald, representatives of other agencies and students. A local youth group performed drama and traditional dances. Finally, the graduates received their certificates, accompanied by applause from invited guests, family members and friends.

At the same ceremony, 19 former JRS-sponsored Sudanese students, one of them deaf, who completed secondary education in various boarding schools in Kenya in 2008, received their final awards. Ms Mwaniki and Mr Ronald both congratulated them to their excellent results. Four of the 19 obtained an A and most of the others a B+; three of the students were girls. In their speeches, the students thanked JRS for helping them get access to secondary education. Later, all students and invited guests had lunch at a local restaurant.

“It was a day filled with joy and emotions,” said a JRS worker who attended the ceremony for the first time. “I felt honoured to be among people who, in spite of their complicated backgrounds and of the circumstances they live in have managed to carry on with their education.”

“For many young refugees education is their biggest dream but it is not an easy goal to achieve in a refugee camp. Daily challenges like insecurity, harsh weather conditions, psychosocial instability and personal problems require a strong will in order to not give up. Many of them have experienced persecution or war, have lost all their belongings and have been separated from their loved ones but they did not lose their dignity, their hope and their dreams,” she added.

Hope beyond the camp

For now, most of the former JRS sponsored students have found jobs with different agencies in the camp. But in the long run they want to leave the camp and continue their studies in order to become lawyers, doctors or engineers. Others would like to do a master. Most of the secondary students are applying for scholarships at Windle Trust which enables them to attend university outside the camp.

JRS currently assists 26 secondary students and seven UNISA students. Through the scholarship programme, JRS also supports six students with special needs in different boarding schools across Kenya.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said. Also for the refugee students, education will be a powerful tool to contribute to changing the world they live in to the better.

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