We started our visit of the Hagadera Camp at Dadaab, in Northeast Kenya, at a meeting with a Field Officer from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The camp is home to 90,000 refugees. Ninety percent have fled the unrest in Somalia and the others are largely from Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. UNHCR is responsible for coordinating a plethora of services at the camp including healthcare, education, water, protection, and the daily intake of new refugees. As the Field Officer introduced us to the camp and its residents, I was inspired by her commitment to improving the quality of life for these refugees, who live in circumstances that most of us would find utterly hopeless.
A visit of the camp revealed an active but congested environment. People were searching for firewood, retrieving water from stations, getting food rations, going to clinics, waiting in lines for basic services, and hoping day after day after day – some for over ten years - for resettlement abroad or peace in their home country. The conditions were deplorable, yet everyone from camp officials to teachers to parents continues to try their best to improve these refugees’ lives.
UNHCR and local parents realize that the children’s future depends on a good education. There are around 14,000 students trying to learn the basics in tents, under trees, and, if lucky, in open-air sheds with a thatch or tin roof. Students sit three to a desk and there is only one teacher for up to 60 students. Despite these crowded arrangements, the students and teachers are optimistic.
In the Education Office, some inspiring quotes were hung on the wall. One read, "Progress is the activity of today and the assurance of tomorrow." Since the camp inhabitants have assembled their "homes" from wood, mud, plastic sheeting, and nails, they must relate to another that said, "Excuses are the nails used to build the house of failure." One final quote seemed to perfectly sum up the situation in the camp: "It is in our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." Only with this hopeful view could any one of us survive the tragedies the people of Dadaab have faced in their lives.
Posted on the wall in some of the classrooms was the following:
Biggest Need - General Knowledge
Best Day - Today
Appropriate Time - Right Now
Best Teacher - Self Driven
Worst thought - Jealousy
Best Friend - Who Inspires you to Learn
These types of messages have successfully encouraged the students. We met some who had arrived speaking no English and are now able to converse beautifully thanks to the camp education program.
This support for education was summed up best by two men who had been in the camp for almost 20 years. They both stressed the importance of a global education for their children and especially for girls. As elders, they felt their role was to get all children in school. One of the men, who was disabled, said, "Education and discussion is the way forward with people of the globe." These comments were coming from men who were living in the most challenging of circumstances without bitterness for what has happened. It was a spirit we should all share.
By supporting Refugees International, we can ensure that our government, NGOs, and the UN do not abandon these individuals. Through no fault of their own, their lives have been uprooted by a conflict they have no control over. In particular, we must help them receive a proper education so they can either return to their countries when peace is restored and be future leaders or succeed wherever they are eventually resettled. Refugees International will continue to tell the stories of these brothers and sisters of the world and demand that the world’s policy makers respond to their plight.
Mike Hawkins is Secretary of Refugees International’s Board of Directors. Members of the Refugees International Board Mission are blogging regularly from Kenya as they assess the refugee situation in places like Dadaab. Follow the RI Board Mission posts over the next few weeks and learn more about our work from the field.
November 05, 2010
| Tagged as: Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Humanitarian Response, Neglected Crises