Kenya: Education is everything
08 December 2008

For refugee children in Nairobi, it is hard to find access to education. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
“Education is everything for me. It is the basic thing one really needs to survive. It is what helps you become self-reliable. It is the knowledge of how to apply your knowledge at a particular time. We really need education.”
Nairobi, 8 December 2008 – Armel* was 13 years old when he first came to Kenya in 2001, fleeing the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with his sister and his elder brother. 

For the first two months they found accommodation with a distant relative. Then the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) rejected their registration in Nairobi and gave them a movement pass to Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya. 

Armel’s sister was ill and returned to DRC while Armel and his brother decided to stay. Together, they managed to find a small house but, as Amel recalls, “we gave up somehow”. 

Pursuing education with no registration

Without registration it was difficult to find support. However, Amel managed to continue his primary and secondary education and soon joined the scouts. Through them he first came to know JRS who supports their activities and had asked them for help during World Refugee Day. 

Two years ago when Armel was about to complete his secondary education he had difficulties in paying the exam registration fees and travel costs to sit his final exams which, at that time, were only offered in Tanzania. 

His headmaster wrote a letter and sent him to JRS. He explained his situation, saying he needed USD290 to register for the exams. “I had nothing,” Armel remembers, “but when I got USD100 from JRS it gave me hope.” 

Determined to sit the exams

He had already missed the first exam and was late for the second. He had to borrow money to pay for the travel and he did not have any travel documents. Still, he was determined to go and in an adventurous and risky travel with an uncertain outcome, he managed to arrive in Dar-es-Salaam the evening before the exams took place. 

He passed as the 5th best. “If I had to share an experience in my life, it is this”, he says. But he has still not received his certificate because until today he was not able to pay the full amount of registration fees. “I thank JRS because this money allowed me to sit the exams”, he says today.

Still without refugee registration, he had difficulties in finding access to schools but somehow managed to start studies in telecommunications. In 2006, Armel was officially registrated by the Kenyan government and is now waiting to receive his ID card which will allow him full access to schools and other public places. 

“I hope they don’t tell me to come next year because I really need it“, he says after authorities refused to give the card to his brother while he was doing community services with the scouts. 

Education is everything

He would like to continue his studies in telecommunications and go for an advanced diploma. To make some money he teaches French whenever possible. It is only one of the six languages he speaks. 

In September he raised some money which he invested in computer lessons but they will be finished soon. Meanwhile he is the leader of a group of 70 scouts.

Today he is happy to stay in Kenya. “It’s a good country,” he says. Asked what education means to him he explains: “Education is everything for me. It is the basic thing one really needs to survive. It is what helps you become self-reliable. It is the knowledge of how to apply your knowledge at a particular time. We really need education.”


*not his real name