Kenya: Rwandan refugee glad to receive higher education in Kakuma
13 December 2010

Rwandan refugee Joel works on essays to prepare for the new distance-learning programme JC-HEM. Courses begin in January 2011. (Sophie Vodvarka/JRS)
"I know I have potential even though I don’t yet have a proper qualification."

Kakuma, 13 December 2010 – Thirty-one year-old Rwandan refugee Joel is one of the first students to take part in the new JC-HEM distance-learning programme, scheduled to begin official courses in January 2011. Still an asylum-seeker, Joel has had a difficult time finding opportunities for higher education. After searching other options, Joel found JC-HEM to be the only programme to fit his situation.

I left Rwanda 16 years ago, when I was 15. I had to leave because of the war in 1994. There was a civil war between the mainly Hutu government and the Tutsi-led rebel forces and within 100 days about 800.000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically murdered in massacres orchestrated by Hutu militias. Initially I fled to Tanzania with my family but after two years the camp was closed so we could not stay. On December 28 the government announced on the radio that all Rwandan refugees have to leave by December 31st. But most of us did not consider Rwanda safe enough to go back.    

However, most of my family returned to Rwanda because their people were there and I have been on my own for the last 14 years. I decided not to go back because of the threat of more violence and because I hoped to receive a better education in Tanzania or Kenya. I moved to Kenya and lived in Nairobi where I worked as a night watchman from 6:00pm-6:00am and went to school from 8:00am until 1:30pm. Even though I worked the money I earned was not enough to save something.

Higher-learning in Kakuma

In 2005 I moved to Kakuma [refugee camp]. The UN refugee agency [UNHCR] in Nairobi had stopped registering refugees from Rwanda for a while so I had come as an asylum seeker, without any document and I was scared that they would send me back. But later I was recognised as a refugee.

I started working in the camp hospital as a senior supervisor in the community health programme in disease surveillance and have acquired some medical knowledge. Then I got admitted for the new JC-HEM* distance education programme and I like it because it gives me flexibility in the courses I wish to pursue.

I work seven hours per day. Balancing work and school is very challenging. I want to hold on to my job, but I think it will be too difficult for me to work and study at the same time. Learning is something I need for my life because I know you can get different jobs if you are educated, such as teaching.

I like the medical field but I would also like to do social work. I also find humanities interesting. I know I have potential even though I don’t yet have a proper qualification. I have something to contribute but the work opportunities here are very limited.

Since September when our preparation course with JC-HEM started, we did interesting assignments. First we had an introduction to Jesuit leadership and concepts. Students had time to get familiar with computers and the internet. We had to write several papers such as on the concept of heroic leadership and on how we would like to use our skills in the future. At the end we will get a certificate for liberal arts through Regis University in the US. We feel that at least we can leave the camp with something.

In a camp like Kakuma where you never get what you want but can only deal with what you have I didn’t expect a chance like this. I have been out of school for so long and I was not happy with my situation. I take the JC-HEM course very seriously and I hope that one day I can acquire a university degree in Kenya and live a better life.

* Jesuit Higher Education at the Margins