Kenya + 5 more

Higher education programme starts running on solar

Kakuma, 30 July 2012 – Technological and environmental advances in the Jesuit Refugee Service higher education programme in northern Kenya have made power cuts a thing of the past for the students taking liberal studies.

Last month, in a move to guarantee a more stable and cleaner energy supply, JRS installed a system of solar panels in Kakuma refugee camp. The move away from traditional power sources towards an environmentally sustainable model is a pioneering step by the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) programme.

Maintenance of solar systems is easy and efficient as there are no moving parts to clean. These benefits will result in lower costs in terms of operation and maintenance – meaning more money can be spent on teaching and supporting the students.

"Solar energy is a completely renewable resource. On sunny days, power is stored in the batteries for use on the occasional cloudy or rainy days. Oil on the other hand is of course finite and represents a constant financial investment and reliance on oil stocks", said JRS Kenya Systems Administrator in Kakuma, Muthoni Njuguna.

"In Kakuma, there are planned power cuts every day across the camp in order to conserve oil-based energy used for the huge generators. With the new solar panels, this will be a thing of the past for the JC:HEM students who can continue using the computers and lights throughout the day. An added benefit is that the solar system makes very little noise compared with the generator system", added Ms Njuguna.

Solar energy has many advantages over oil-based energy, not least the reduced environmental impact and release of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The 121 solar panels installed at the Pedro Arrupe Learning Centre have a guaranteed minimum lifespan of 20 years and can provide up to 20 kilowatts of power per day, nearly 10 times the average domestic consumption in Europe.

A truly global classroom. The JC:HEM programme continues to go from strength to strength and is bound to do even better now that the students in Kakuma have such a reliable power source. The certificate courses – known as Community Service Learning Track (CSLT) – are continuing successfully, and the diploma students are now operating from the same 'online classroom', interacting with JC:HEM students from Dzaleka camp in Malawi.

In Amman, Jordan, a new cohort of students is due to start soon and will include urban refugees from Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. A truly global classroom is bringing Kakuma refugees 'virtually' to the rest of the world.

JRS supports refugees in Kakuma camp to continue their tertiary education under the JC:HEM programme. Students can study for a three-year Diploma in Liberal Studies or take a variety of short certificate courses.

Thirty-five students are admitted to the Kakuma diploma course every year. The course is conducted online with support and guidance from JRS staff and academics from Jesuit universities in the US. Every diploma course is accredited by Regis University in the US. Officially launched in 2010, JC:HEM operates across four sites: Kenya, Jordan, Malawi and Syria, and has plans for expansion after completion of the pilot phase in 2014.