This article has been published in Enabling Education 6
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Title: Life in Kakuma, Kenya
Author: Mburu, E
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2002

Life in Kakuma, Kenya

Evans Mburu

Kakuma refugee camp is situated in north-west Kenya. It accommodates about 72,000 refugees mainly from Sudan, but also Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and one or two individuals from other parts of the world. There are 23 primary schools, 3 secondary schools and 5 pre-schools. Teachers are drawn from the refugees themselves. Teacher education is minimal. One of the Kenyan teachers at Kakuma, Evans Mburu, gives a personal account of his work.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an NGO working in Kakuma, implements the special education programme. It has a team of four refugee staff who are receiving on the job training in special education. The team goes from school to school screening learners with special educational needs supervised by qualified Kenyan staff. First, informal screening is done; an informal individual education plan is drawn up and later implemented as the staff also get to practice the basic teaching skills.

Education is the only worthy weapon for reducing social conflict. It is also an economic tool to fight poverty. EENET has a role to play in this.

The IRC works closely with the Lutheran World Federation in training regular classroom teachers. IRC has started two integrated classrooms for deaf learners. In one of the classrooms, we have three nationalities. A common sign language is being developed as the medium of communication.

Occasionally there is inter-clan fighting – yet the learners and teachers ignore the clan boundaries and walk to school, driven by their desire to learn. Learners with disabilities join school, regardless of whether a fight will take place or not. No one is left behind. Each learner, old and young, wants to be in the classroom.

The lucky learners are those who escaped from war without serious injuries when they were still young. They have done well in school. Learners with special educational needs have joined the school despite the poor learning facilities, harsh climate and poor health.

Inclusive education deters bitterness and strives to fight against further loss of human life.

Another area of inclusive education is vocational skills training, which takes place in multi-purpose centres. The refugees come to the camp with different skills, which they teach others, regardless of ethnic background. Tailoring, carpet weaving, carpentry, handloom weaving, embroidery, leatherwork and crocheting. Persons with disabilities are given first priority. The training continues for a period of nine months after which the trainees are examined in their specific areas of training. Those who qualify are employed in the same multi-purpose centres and paid on piece work rates.

EENET’s publication should be seen as an information-giving tool as well as a tool for social cohesion.

A scene in one of the classrooms:
Sudanese, Ethiopian and Somali deaf students are learning together in an integrated classroom. The Somali teacher is about 24 years old and has 22 students ranging from 8-38 years old. He introduces the lesson in sign language: “Good Morning! We are here to learn together because we are one.” This practice continues everyday and, when it is appropriate, all the learners are engaged in a single lesson, such as music, art or sign language. The whole class is cohesive. Circumstances have forced them to be together. They are refugees but inclusiveness determines their learning success.

‘It does not really matter how old I am, or what class I am in. What counts is ‘let me taste a little of it’.