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2008 – Kenya

Increasing educational attainment for girls in refugee camps in Kenya

Partner: World University Service of Canada 

This year, the 60 million girls Foundation supported an educational project located in the refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma. These camps are home to thousands of women, men, girls and boys from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo who have been displaced due to years of conflict and war.

This important project has two main components. The first aims to increase the educational participation of girls by reducing their drop-out rates and improving their performance in school. Specifically, the project will enable 480 girls to attend remedial classes at the primary level for one year, in an effort to boost their educational performance. These classes will be conducted at the primary level, as World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has discovered that while there are gender gaps at all levels of schooling, the biggest difference occurs late in primary school, with gender ratios of 5:1. These classes will be conducted during the lunch hour, as it has been shown that families are more likely to send their daughters to school if lunch is provided as part of the program. In addition to these 480 beneficiaries, 5 girls will receive scholarships at the secondary school level.

The second component focuses on mobilizing the community around the importance of girls’ education. The project will reach approximately an additional 1000 parents and other members of the community through a concerted effort to mobilize and build support for girls’ education. In addition, four individuals – two men and two women – will be chosen from the refugee camps to run task forces. These task forces will meet before the girls start their classes to discuss the importance of girls’ education. These groups will also meet regularly throughout the school year to discuss problems as they arise, and help encourage girls to return to school if they choose to drop out. This community mobilization complements the first component, and ensures the long term success of the project.

Why Kakuma and Dadaab?

The camp at Kakuma is home to over 80,000 refugees. The majority of refugees have fled the conflict in Sudan, but other refugees come from neighbouring Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Uganda. It is located on a particularly inhospitable part of Kenya stretching across the desert in the north. The three camps that make up Dadaab are also located on a very dry, desolate part of Kenya, near the Somali border. It is home to over 160,000 refugees, mainly from neighbouring Somalia, though there are also some refugees from Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many have lived there for more than a decade and are still unable to return home due to continued conflict in their home villages and countries.

Conditions in these camps are bleak. Refugees have had to abandon their homes, their livelihoods and traditions, and have suffered from seeing family members and friends die in the conflict that forced their own departure. Both camps are also located on land prone to droughts and flooding. Food is scarce and economic opportunities are rare. Education is available in the camps, but many children do not attend school, particularly girls. Many families in the camps do not see the value in girls’ education, as they believe that it makes more economic sense to have them concentrate on domestic work. Girls are also often forced into early marriage. Families therefore see little sense in investing in girls’ education if they are going to leave the household at an early age. Early marriage also means that even if girls get the opportunity to attend primary school, they drop out of school late in primary or early in secondary school to start their own families.

The girls in these camps are truly among the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable. A program that aims to improve girls’ participation and performance in school, and is committed to mobilizing the community in support of girls’ education can therefore have an enormous impact. In addition to the 485 direct beneficiaries, the other girls in the camps will benefit in the long run from the presence of more girls succeeding and participating in school.

Why partner with World University Service of Canada? 

The 60 million girls Foundation chose to partner with WUSC for a number of reasons. First, it is an organization that is committed to promoting global understanding and development through education and training. Second, they have extensive experience working in refugee camps. WUSC has been working in refugee camps granting post-secondary scholarships to students fleeing war since 1978. In 2008, WUSC will welcome their 1000th refugee student to Canada. In fact, it was through their Student Refugee Program that WUSC became aware of the particular sociocultural obstacles that were preventing girls from entering and remaining in school. WUSC was continually confronted by an insurmountable educational gap between girls and boys in Dadaab and Kakuma: despite lowering the criteria to facilitate the entry of female candidates to their program, very few women were able to qualify. Through their research, WUSC found that the girls in the camps had markedly higher drop-out rates than boys; they also lagged behind boys in their attendance, their performance, and their graduation rates. They thus developed the current education project in response to these inequalities.

Finally, in addition to their work in providing post-secondary education opportunities to refugees, WUSC has experience implementing education and training projects for girls and women in the developing world. Their experience has shown that for girls to be educated, the community needs to be mobilized in support of girls’ education, as well as be encouraged to see the wide-reaching benefits of educating girls. This emphasis on community mobilization and parental involvement greatly strengthens the viability and enhances the long-term success of the project.