Kenya: Education is my mirror
15 June 2010

Children in an overcrowded classroom at a school in Kakuma refugee camp. Education infrastructure in the camp is not sufficient to cater for the needs of all. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
I look at my education as a ‘mirror’ that shows me my life with a better understanding of my abilities and my circumstances with a better recognition of my own opportunities to improve myself and to help others.

Kakuma, 15 June 2010 – I am a 35-year-old male Ethiopian refugee and have resided at Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya since 2001. I fled from my homeland with some of my colleagues in search of protection after we had been harassed, intimidated and imprisoned and, more generally, deprived of our personal and academic rights by the Ethiopian government. 

We had demanded for basic human rights and academic freedom at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and gained country wide support. But the government’s reply was brutal and disproportional action threatening us to an extent that forced us to leave the country.

In 2004, three years after arriving to Kakuma, I joined JRS’s distance learning programme with the University of South Africa (UNISA) which enabled me to resume my studies which were disrupted when I left Ethiopia. 

I chose to continue what I had studied back home and enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in human and social studies with a special focus on government, administration and development. While continuing my studies I regained confidence and hope and began to feel part of the global society though the rulers of my country still denied me the right to live in peace in my own birth place.

Camp life is full of challenges

My daily life in the camp has been full of challenges. I find it hard to find a balance between my studies, my work and domestic activities such as cooking, cleaning, washings, fetching water and collecting the twice-monthly food rations from the food distribution centre. 

Insecurity and harsh weather conditions add to that. Kakuma is a hot and arid place which makes it difficult to concentrate. And at night you often find armed gangs robbing, raping, wounding or killing refugees in the camp.

I work as a primary school teacher in one of the camp schools which is run by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and I earn less than USD 50 a month which is not sufficient to cover my basic needs. 

I have to go to work at 6:30am in the morning and come back home at 2:00pm in the afternoon. Cooking and eating normally takes two hours. I spent at least eight hours a day studying at the UNISA centre. Ideally I should also find time to prepare my lesson plan for work.

My studies at UNISA as well as my job as a teacher have given me an opportunity to gain experience and have given me strength to deal with existing and future challenges. 

Education is my mirror

That is why I look at my education as a ‘mirror’ that shows me my life with a better understanding of my abilities and my circumstances with a better recognition of my own opportunities to improve myself and to help others. 

I look at the studies programme as a unique life experience. It has created room to accommodate my life with all its challenges, giving me strength, offering solutions and a bright future. If I were not engaged in the studies programme, my life would certainly be more difficult, risky and regrettable.

Being a refugee, I want to study the areas of my field in depth. It is my hope that, once I have graduated, I can use my education as a tool to help others advance in their lives and promote justice and equality for all. That is why I first want to understand the structural, democratic and developmental agendas as tools to promote empowerment. At the same time I will assume my specific role and make my contribution for a better world.

I would like to thank JRS and its visionary and kind members, donors, and other important participants, who have been honest and very critical of our difficult situations with an often dark future, for their efforts and contributions. They honestly searched and struggled to make a difference and they can see the changes in our lives. May God bless their work!