Dadaab refugee camp offers more than safety from war

Report
from Kenya Daily Nation
Published on 20 Sep 2018 View Original

In Summary

  • Since the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have used this road to escape the fighting and find refuge in Dadaab, which today hosts 209,606 refugees.

  • Dadaab has 22 primary and six secondary schools, 22 early childhood education centres and nine alternative basic education centres.

  • It is easier for boys to remain in school than it is for girls. For instance, when girls start menstruating, many opt to drop out even though some schools offer sanitary pads.

By NG'ANG'A MBUGUA

The 80-km stretch of road between the Liboi border point and the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Garissa County is as dusty and bumpy as it is fraught with the risk of attacks by Al-Shabaab terrorists.

However, for the refugees fleeing the violence that has rocked Somalia since the ouster of President Siad Barre in 1991, this road makes the difference between hell and heaven.

Since the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have used this road to escape the fighting and find refuge in Dadaab, which today hosts 209,606 refugees.

Of these, a vast majority — 201,496— are Somalis. Interestingly, slightly more than half of the total population are children of schoolgoing age. One of them is Hussein Abdi Ahmed.

Ahmed is much more than just a number. He packs a penetrating gaze. His angular face is set with determination.

His pink shirt is clean and well-pressed. And although his English vocabulary is severely limited, he is neither afraid nor embarrassed to initiate a conversation.

EDUCATION

Before he came to Kenya in 2008, Ahmed, now 16, used to herd camels in Mogadishu but violence forced him and his family to flee to safety in Kenya.

He had never been to school. This changed when he got to the Dadaab Refugee Camp, where he enrolled in a class taught by what is known in Dadaab as 'incentive teachers'.

These are refugees who have some form of training or an interest in teaching.

Usually, they are Form Four leavers who are given a short induction course and then sent to class in the hope that they can help to impart knowledge to their charges.

Next month, Ahmed will sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination. Although he is fluent in the Somali language, he cannot speak Kiswahili at all.

This notwithstanding, he will be sitting a Kiswahili paper in the national examination, competing against candidates who have spoken the national language most of their lives.

"If I was taught (and examined) in Somali language, I would pass the exam because I could understand better," he says through a translator.

REPATRIATION

Given the challenges he faces, it is not surprising that his ambition is to become a teacher.

Dadaab has 22 primary and six secondary schools, 22 early childhood education centres and nine alternative basic education centres.

The latter caters to adults and other learners who are too old to enrol in regular schools.

In March, the government of Kenya insisted that refugee camps must be closed and those living there encouraged to return to their countries of origin.

As a result of the directive, 15 schools were closed. Most of these were in Ifo 2, which formed part of the larger Dadaab Refugee Camp complex.

Most of the refugees hosted there were relatively new and had fled from the drought that had ravaged Somalia.

Following the government order, 78,176 of them agreed to return to their homes voluntarily. Those who could not were absorbed in other parts of the Dadaab complex.

KCPE

When the Ifo 2 camp was closed down in May, so too was Mwangaza Primary School, a magnificent institution that hosted over 3,000 learners. Today, Mwangaza looks like a ghost town in the baking sun.

About 2,300 of its former students and 40 teachers were moved to other schools in Dagahale and Ifo camps.

However, by the time it was closed down, it had already been registered as an examination centre by the Kenya National Examination Council and will host KCPE candidates who were registered there.

In a tent snuggled between two rows of classrooms at Hormuud Primary School, are learners who form part of the 983 children from Mwangaza absorbed at the school.

But, challenging as their circumstances are, they are much better off compared to the 135 learners who have various forms of disability.

It is hard enough to be a schoolgoing child and a refugee, but it is much harder when one has a disability such as blindness in a society where all forms of disability are frowned upon.

PERFORMANCE

To make their life more bearable, humanitarian organisations, such as the World Lutheran Foundation, organise regular check-ups for these children. On the day the Daily Nation team visited Hormuud, an audiologist, Mr Hussein Wahule, had gone to examine the children.

According to the school's deputy headteacher, Mr Dahir Shafee Sigale, Hormuud had a mean score of 262.65 last year, an improvement from 224 in 2016.

2015 was the best year for the school, when it had a mean score of 294. Last year, its best student had 346 marks, no mean feat given the challenges of living in a camp, where the homesteads have no furniture that learners can use to study comfortably after school and where other social and economic challenges abound.

Many of our teachers are not qualified," Mr Sigale says. Ironically, many of the refugee teachers who qualify often opt to leave the camp, meaning that the schools will always have a shortage of qualified staff.

This is a problem that Mr Idris Budhul Shurie, the Dadaab Sub-County Director of Education, is well aware of. "Sixty percent of the teachers are untrained. And the number of teachers is inadequate compared to learners," he says.

GIRLS' RIGHTS

Not surprisingly, it is easier for boys to remain in school than it is for girls. For instance, when girls start menstruating, many opt to drop out even though some schools offer sanitary pads.

Due to cultural factors, and considering there are no female headteachers in refugee schools, it is difficult for girls to ask their male headteachers for the pads.

And when girls drop out early, that also means there is a smaller pool from which schools can hire female teachers.

In turn, since female teachers are few and far between, girls have fewer role models to make them stay in school longer.

"Girls in camps become mothers very early and this keeps them from school as they have to nurture children," Mr Shurie explains.

Muna Hussein Omar, a 20-year-old mother of two, is one such student. She told the Daily Nation that she was married off at the age of 15.

FAMILY

However, she was divorced three years ago when her husband asked her to return to Somalia with him and she declined. He left with their eldest son while Muna was left with the younger one, who is now three.

Today, Muna is a Form Two student at Hagadera Secondary School. Although her father lives in Dadaab, Muna lives separately with her son.

Besides fending for the boy, which sometimes keeps her out of school, she constantly worries that one day, her estranged husband might come for the boy when she is in school.

Every morning, for her peace of mind, she leaves the boy with a relative. Initially, Muna had enrolled at an alternative learning centre but had to join regular school when the centre was closed.

ROLE MODEL

However, she is lucky to have joined secondary school.

"Few girls join Form One due to early marriage," said Mr Tongolo Benson, the chief principal of Hagadera Secondary School. This year, the school has only 72 girls in Form Four, compared to 137 in Form One and 112 in Form Two. However, it has a bulge of 224 in Form Three, a pointer that there is still hope for girls.

Indeed, one of the school's former students, Ms Deko Mohamed Ahmed, remains a shining example for other girls.

After scoring a B- in last year's Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, Ms Ahmed qualified for a scholarship to study at a Canadian university.

In her gap year, she has been hired to teach English and Islamic Religious Education at her former school.

"Every girl in school has a dream that they will become somebody who has the potential to help society," Deko says. "I urge them to make their dreams come true."