Kakuma Refugee Camp
Opened in 1992, the Kakuma refugee camp is located in the Turkana district of Kenya, nearly 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northwest of the nation’s capital city, Nairobi. Situated in the semi-desert of the Rift Valley, refugees in the Kakuma camp are exposed to extreme heat (43C, 110F) and brutal sandstorms during dry seasons. In the months of the rainy season, heavy downpours cause flash flooding that destroys homes, isolates portions of the camp, and results in accidental drownings. An environment of extremes prohibits land cultivation, requiring a dependency on the World Food Programs food rations.
As of August 2012, there were over 100,000 individuals living within the Kakuma refugee camp, with hundreds of new arrivals daily, making it one of the largest refugee camps in the world. (The largest camp, Dadaab, is situated in eastern Kenya and shelters over 450,000 refugees.) Individuals and families in the Kakuma refugee camp originate from multiple African countries throughout the region, including, but not limited to, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. The majority of refugees are from present-day South Sudan and Somalia.
Length of displacement within the camp varies considerably, though many refugees have lived in the camp for decades. Due to ongoing insecurity throughout the region, as well as unpredictable asylum and refugee policies, the Kakuma refugee camp population is in a constant state of flux.
Education for refugees living in Kakuma follows the curriculum and policy standards set forth by the Kenyan government. Students wishing to continue on to secondary school are required to pass the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Exam (KCPE). A student’s KCPE score dictates whether s/he will be called to a government-funded National, Provincial, or District level school. National level schools are the most competitive, calling upon top KCPE scorers, followed by National, and then District level schools.
For students wishing to attend university, they must complete the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Exam (KCSE) in their final year of secondary school. A student’s KCSE score dictates which national university they are eligible to attend.
While refugee students follow the same academic trajectory as Kenyan national students, their confinement to under-resourced refugee schools significantly hinders their ability to compete with their non-refugee student counterparts. Opportunities to attend secondary schools outside of the camp, as well as post-secondary schools, are based on the very limited availability of scholarships. As a result, most refugee students, young women and girls in particular, are unable to receive either a secondary, or a post-secondary education.
2011 Educational Statistics for the Kakuma Refugee Camp:
Supplied by the Lutheran World Federation
14 – Total number of primary schools
310 – Total number of teachers
67 – Total number of certified teachers
16,573 – Total number of students
9,927 – Male students
6,646 – Female students
2 – Total number of secondary schools
44 – Total number of teachers
28 – Total number of certified teachers
889 – Total number of students
761 – Male students
128 – Female students
The challenges facing refugee girls, as well as their families, are manifold and impede their ability to complete their education. Such obstacles include, but are not limited to:
Family Survival Needs
- Locating and hauling firewood, requiring young women and girls to venture into remote areas of the camp, often at great risk to their physical safety.
- Walking great distances to communal spigots to fill jerry cans with water.
- Cooking and preparing family meals within a confined space with limited tools and equipment. Often the girls are required to withstand extreme heat and wood smoke due to a lack of ventilation, coupled with high outside temperatures.
- Maintaining the order and cleanliness of the family compound, including washing the family’s clothes by hand.
- Tending to family’s livestock, such as ducks or chickens.
Education & School-based Challenges
- An interruption in education as a result of their displacement, followed by detention upon arrival to Kenya. As a result, students must often repeat grades or withstand a gap in learning.
- Learning the official language of instruction, if different than the official language of instruction in country of origin. Students are frequently held back until they achieve reasonable proficiency.
- School infrastructure deficits, including a shortage of desks and chairs, teaching and learning materials.
- A lack of electricity in the schools, as well as pane-less windows within classrooms that allow high winds to blow about students’ materials. Students must often protect their faces from the sand, rain, and other debris.
- High winds jangling the classroom’s metal roof, resulting in a deafening noise that disrupts the teacher’s instruction and makes hearing difficult.
- Significantly over-crowded classrooms, resulting in four to five students cramped around a desk designed for two students, and pupil to teacher ratios of over 100 to 1.
- Hunger due to a lack of food access, leaving students fatigued and unable to fully concentrate.
- Poor teacher motivation.
- Poor, or no, access to feminine hygiene products, and limited hygiene facilities, that leave young women and girls unable to attend school for multiple days each month.
- Walking a great distance to school, oftentimes through remote areas of the camp, placing young women and girls in extreme danger.
- The absence of electricity at home, requiring students to complete homework before sunset – a significant challenge for girls who are responsible for the majority of the domestic chores.
Organizations working within Kakuma
The following is a list of organizations that are currently working within the Kakuma refugee camp, providing various services to those living within the camp:
- United National High Commissioner for Refugees
- International Organization for Migration
- Lutheran World Federation/Department for World Service
- Windle Trust Kenya
- International Rescue Committee
- Don Bosco
- Jesuit Refugee Service
- Film Aid International
- NCCK For Wananchi
- Kenya Red Cross
- Refugee Consortium of Kenya
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)