Graduation Ceremony at the Arrupe Learning Center, Kakuma
18 August 2017

Graduates of the diploma in Liberal Studies program pose for a group photo (Melvin Kiruja, JRS Kakuma)

Early morning on 24th July 2017, in the depth of Kakuma Refugee Camp, the Arrupe Learning center was buzzing with activities, pomp and color, music and dancing could be heard from a far. Clearly it wasn’t business as usual…something beautiful and profound was happening, the graduation ceremony that everyone had been looking forward to. Students who had toiled tirelessly through the unforgiving hardships of the camp were about to see their dreams come true. The jubilation, the smiles and tears of joy told it all. 

When the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC: HEM) first partnered in the year 2010, they shared a vision to offer quality higher education to people at the margins. This initiative saw the first group of refugees from Kakuma refugee camp enrolled in two streams of study: the community service learning tracks (CSLTs) program which is offered onsite and the Diploma in Liberal studies which is offered online. Earlier this year Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins changed to Jesuit Worldwide Learning: Higher Education at the Margins (JWL: HEM) but with a bigger goal of learning together to transform the world, cementing a commitment to the vision of a global community of learners seen as the answer to the root causes of poverty, isolation, despair, conflict and displacement and the path to a more humane world.

JWL is able to provide these services through a collaborative global partnership comprised of universities, organizations, and above all, people, with a common objective of making quality education accessible in places where higher learning opportunities are scarce or lacking altogether.

This year’s graduation did however come with a new twist as for the first time ever graduates of the diploma course were joined in the celebration by 162 CSLT students who had have completed a four-month course in various areas. There are currently 5 CSLT courses in Kakuma. A new course, in the area of youth work, will be added this year. It is expected to bridge the gap in terms of professional skills needed in youth programming which is vital to the camp given the size of its predominantly young population.

The primary Teacher Education CSLT is the largest CSLT as it targets 100 untrained primary school teachers every year from the Lutheran World Federation Schools who are trained on classroom management, education planning, teaching strategies, literacy and educational leadership. The Peace Studies and Interreligious Dialogue CSLT is designed for religious leaders, peace facilitators and community leaders with the goal of equipping them with skills to resolve everyday conflicts in the community. The Trainer of Trainers: English Language Learning track strives to train refugees to teach English in the local community through community based organizations (CBO), regular schools and other voluntary arrangements. The Psychosocial Case Management CSLT, on the other hand, targets students working in the psychosocial sector who are trained on human development, counseling and case management. Finally, the Community and Business Development course seeks to empower refugees with skills in professional writing, community management and mobilization, basic accounting, project planning and management.

The graduation ceremony was graced by the presence of the Executive president of JWL, Fr. Peter Balleis SJ, who expressed his appreciation of the program and shared his dreams and vision for JWL with the students and guests and pledged to improve and grow the existing courses. In attendance was also the JRS Kenya Country Director who applauded the graduates and urged them to keep working harder and aiming higher. Afterwards, Fr. Kevin Burke SJ, Regis University’s Vice President, Mission, conferred the students with their Diplomas and with that they were more than ready to get back to the community with renewed energy to serve and share their knowledge with the community. This was further emphasized by the valedictorian in his speech, noting that, even though only 17 out of 40 students finally made it to graduation, this would not deter their efforts to share the acquired skills widely within the camp and back to their home countries.

Tadicha Hussein Jillo, one of the graduates, shared that he had very high hopes for changing his life through education but all hope dwindled after high school because, as a refugee, there are very few scholarships available and some many restrictions which lock out the majority of applicants. But JWL changed all that when by offering the ability to pursue education online. His experience through the program changed him from a total pessimist to a very optimistic person in life. “I personally work as an IT assistant within the JWL project as they not only educate us but also build our experience and skills which make us feel like we are part of the organization. We get to work with both National and International staff without discrimination and that is why I made a personal pledge that I will be supporting this program wherever in the world I will be.”

Yeras Ayalew is another beneficiary of the JRS/JWL Diploma scholarship who first learnt about JWL from his workmates. He found that JWL really understood the challenges refugees and marginalized members of the host community face. “I would like to appreciate the professors who taught me all the courses from the very first course of ‘Interpersonal l Communication’ to the 15th which was ‘Entrepreneurship’ and more gratitude goes out to those international faculty members who have been encouraging us. As Benjamin Franklin stated; “Investing in education pays the best interest”. Your investment never goes unpaid. I firmly believe that this shall be the end of the beginning as we are anticipating shaping our career in different fields beyond what we have already achieved.” said Yeras.

October 2013 was the day Daudi Warsame, another JWL Diploma graduate, first got a chance to study with JRS/JWL when he joined the TOT: ELL course and later was admitted to the Diploma in Liberal Studies. He said, “I consider Arrupe Learning Center as the ‘the small Harvard’ because it produces talented people who lead both ethical and professional lives. Becoming part of JWL gives one various opportunities such as learning with different students with different backgrounds, different languages, nationalities and beliefs.”

What came out clear for me through interacting with these diploma students is that even if they pursue different paths in life after this graduation, advocating for the rights of refugees and bringing change into the lives of people was a common goal, even though this might entail considerable sacrifices.

This year’s graduation will remained etched forever in the memory of these young men and women. As they go forth to serve their communities, they embody the timeless Jesuit educational ideal of forming men and women for others. Much appreciation to those who have supported the work of JRS/ JWL in Kakuma as without them this success would not have been possible.


By Melvin Kiruja,

Facilitator of the English Language Learning course, Kakuma.

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