Kenya: A learning experience
12 September 2013

A group of JC:HEM students busy studying online in one of the computer labs ran by JRS at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. (Christian Fuchs/JRS)
They have been the, pioneers and have thus made us able to improve the programme one step at a time, and they have been of invaluable help.
Kakuma, 12 September 2013 - I have been working for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Kakuma for slightly over two years now, with the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) programme for the entire time.

I came to Kakuma a month after finishing my master’s degree to work as a facilitator for a community development and organization track that was about to be started. In addition to helping develop a site relevant curriculum for the course, I was put in charge of the 2010 diploma cohort. This meant that I helped communicate with professors in the United States when needed and assisted in explaining assignments or editing papers when the students required help. I have carried out my role of supporting this cohort through my transition to the current position of JC:HEM Coordinator in Kakuma. It is this cohort that will graduate in a few days, after completing almost three years in the JC:HEM programme.

While I was not present from the very beginning (they started approximately 8 months before my arrival in Kakuma), I still acknowledge learning a lot in the slightly over two years of having worked with them. Between monthly meetings discussing benefits and challenges of both the specific classes and the programme as a whole, and regular individual meetings, interviews, and conversations, I feel like having known this cohort fairly well. And through that knowledge or because of it, I am immeasurably proud of their ability to complete an intense, three year higher education programme.

Determination of the students.This cohort, as with all of the others, has jobs, families, and outside commitments. They have travelled across the camp regularly to meet with fellow students, submit assignments and conduct research. They have shared books and battled through assignments that didn’t make sense to them in subjects they had little experience in. They have done the opposite as well, enduring books that are delivered after classes end, demanding professors and difficult class topics they feel well versed in. They have been the, pioneers and have thus made us able to improve the programme one step at a time, and they have been of invaluable help.

Many of them do not know what will come next, as with any major goal completed there are many options but no set paths. I don’t know what their next steps will be, although I hope to support them in whatever way possible. But I do know that they will all achieve something amazing. Whether they become leaders and change their home countries or get resettled and transform refugee policy in their host countries, they will create reforms. Their paths could lead them in many different directions.

I also recognise, as much as I know a bit, at least about each of them, that all of them will make a difference in their families and communities. They will create change in the world because they all see things in their worlds that need change. They will make a difference and we will all be proud to have played a role in their lives, no matter how small.

Testimony by Elizabeth Lock – JC-HEM Coordinator, JRS Kakuma

JRS began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in north-western Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and as of July 2012, hosts over 100,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counselling and vocational training programme, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.