Kristine Pearson (Lifeline Energy) and Kevin Turk (International Tom Hanks Day) visited Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya in July 2018.

A Primary School in Kakuma Refugee Camp

It’s one thing to hear about classrooms with 200 students, but it’s another to visit one. While at Kakuma Refugee Camp we spent time in a Grade 3 classroom packed with 200 students. There wasn’t so much as a chair or brick for them to sit on.

School Motto

All of Kakuma’s 24 primary schools are overcrowded. This one had more than 3000 students, and as a result, classes are split into morning and afternoon shifts. Their teacher tries his best to deliver a lesson, but the outside noise is deafening as other classes are on recess. How they learn the Kenyan National Curriculum, I have no idea. The teacher says he feel frustrated as it’s impossible for him to teach this many children effectively.

The students, who are mostly from South Sudan, sit on the ground with the girls on the right and the boys on the left. Some are Christian, others are Muslim. Like refugee children I’ve met in other camps, they prize education and see it as their best way out of their life. Some say they want to be resettled in a third country. Others want to return home and to get a job one day, citing working for the government or an NGO as their dream. These are the jobs and careers that these children have been exposed to.

Problems that refugee girls face

For the South Sudanese girls, many live in fear of abduction. They can be taken back to South Sudan to be married against their will. Officials told us about 14-year-old kidnapped from the camp by her uncle when she was on her way home for lunch. He sold her to a high-ranking military officer who wanted a tall girl with white teeth and a gap between them from a particular tribe.

The classes start out in primary with about the same number of girls and boys. Yet, in upper primary there are fewer girls as they get married, become pregnant, or have family responsibilities. Many girls, including those from Ethiopia and Somalia, are subjected to FGM and other harmful practices that interrupt or halt their schooling.

Kakuma girls


Reactions to our Lifeplayer MP3 radio

Kenya has a shortage of 40,000 teachers according to the Ministry of Education. Recruiting skilled Kenyan teachers in Kakuma is also a challenge. Teachers live apart from their families. Located in Turkana County bordering Ethiopia, Kakuma is one of the hottest and driest parts of Kenya. Teaching there is considered a hardship post, so any help a teacher can get is appreciated.

One Grade 4 teacher warmly welcomed the Lifeplayer to his class, saying it would give the students a “second voice” for learning.

I asked the students what they wanted to learn most from audio lessons and they said what most Kenyan children have told me – science, mathematics, poetry and English. They said they wanted to hear English “properly spoken”. They loved the idea of recording their own voices to hear their own English accents.

My colleague and I felt delighted by the reaction to the Lifeplayer by school management, the teachers and students.

This group of teachers from various schools were positive about how their classes and students could benefit from using the media player and recording features.  They had ideas to pre-record lessons, homework assignments or stories and fables from the learner’s home countries.

UNHCR and its education partners will be responsible for distributing Lifeplayer MP3 units donated by Lifeline Energy over the coming weeks.

— Kristine Pearson

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