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2011 – Kenya and Malawi

Academic & Leadership Program for Refugee Girls in Kenya and Malawi

Partner: World University Services Canada Malawi:Kenya

The project will benefit a total of 440 refugee children: 100 girls and 100 boys in Malawi and 240 refugee girls in Kenya through remedial education, community mobilization and leadership training. The project will seek to increase access, retention and success of girls and boys in school and to help create the conditions necessary for girls to become valued leaders within their communities. To succeed, they will be encouraged to overcome barriers and develop self confidence, while influencing the community to change their attitudes that hinder the participation and achievement of girls.


In 2009, with financial support from the 60 million girls Foundation, World University Services Canada (WUSC) and Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) piloted a girls’ education project in two Kenyan refugee camps to address the educational needs of girls by providing them with remedial education while mobilizing the community to support girls’ education and develop an improved understanding of gender issues. The program was able to help 480 girls increase significantly both their academic performance and their self-confidence.In order to consolidate the efforts made in Kenya, as well as pilot this education program in a refugee camp in Malawi, WUSC will use this new $100,000 donation from the 60 million girls Foundation to reach yet more girls.

Socio-economic Background Kenya profile: Kenya is home to two large refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, which host hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries. Due to the greater need for girls’ remedial education in Kakuma camp, this project will work in Kakuma, which hosts approximately 70,000 refugees. In the camp, the girl-boy ratio is 1:4 for grades 6 and 7 and only 1:5 in grade 8. Secondary school represents a significant turning point; with a large number of girls dropping out at that stage (the girl-boy ratio in Kakuma is 1:6).

Malawi profile: The Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi hosts 11,161 refugees, primarily from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Approximately 5,000 refugees are under the age of 14,  half of whom are girls. A recent situation analysis revealed that in late primary level, many girls are forced into early marriages while alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and poverty continue to present obstacles to girls’ participation and success in school. In both camps, common barriers confronting girls’ access, retention and achievement are grounded in social-cultural norms which put girls in a subordinate position to boys. Strict gender roles also form barriers to girls’ education. For example, girls are responsible for most domestic work. As household survival depends on girls’ domestic work, it is given priority over attending school, studying or attending extra classes. Additionally, many girls, upon reaching puberty are removed from school for protection reasons while awaiting marriage. Many parents do not see the value of sending their daughters to school (especially beyond primary education) because they believe that the education will be of little practical use. Finally, shyness and minority status in classes gives girls less confidence to ask questions, and therefore, to understand their schoolwork.

The Project

The project will benefit a total of 440 refugee children through remedial education, community mobilization and leadership training: 100 girls and 100 boys in Malawi and 240 refugee girls in Kenya . The project will seek to increase access, retention and success of girls and boys in school and to help create the conditions necessary for girls to become valued leaders within their communities. To succeed, they will be encouraged to overcome barriers and develop self confidence, while influencing the community to change their attitudes that hinder the participation and achievement of girls. In order to achieve these goals, the project will provide remedial education classes to disadvantaged boys and girls.

These classes are specifically targeted at providing girls with additional time to focus on their studies, hence helping them improve their academic performance and build their self-confidence during regular school classes. The project will also work with community members and parents to enhance support for girls’ education and develop an understanding of gender issues. Community mobilizers, with the support from Parent/Teacher Associations and school committees, will follow-up female dropouts by speaking with their parents to educate them on the importance of allowing their daughters to return to school, or seeking ways to address other barriers which are preventing their attendance.

In addition, leadership and life-skills coaching will be provided to girls to strengthen their capacity to undertake leadership roles in their communities. For example, educational workshops to address various issues such as health, HIV and AIDS prevention and education, entrepreneurship and empowerment will increase girls’ knowledge and confidence. Therefore, by actively promoting girls’ education, the project will contribute to increased gender equality within the camps.

Lessons Learned

In Kenya and Malawi, WUSC’s success in providing improved girls’ education is due to our long-standing experience working in collaboration with local education organizations: Windle Trust Kenya and Jesuit Refugee Services, respectively. Key lessons learned from these experiences include:

    1. When contrasted to the gender equality goals the project is trying to address, there is a relative shortage of qualified female teachers, leaders and community mobilizers to participate in the project.
    2. Having female teachers and other staff is important as it motivates the girls to attend workshops and classes and provides girls with positive role models. It has also been found that girls can better identify with women, improving the sustained engagement among girls. With this knowledge, the current project design can target women teachers and staff in the recruitment phase, and encourage higher female participation among community members.
    3. In addition, girls who were the heads of households often missed classes in order to attend to their siblings and other household duties. This will be mitigated by working with other members of the camp community to encourage them to provide childcare and other household support while the girls are attending their classes.
    4. Among the Muslim student population, attendance was shown to be poor during Ramadan due to fasting. To mitigate this, community mobilizers will work with parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and community leaders to develop a strategy which allows them to cover class work – especially in the morning – while not disrupting their religious customs during Ramadan.
    5. Regarding class curricula in Kenya, there is a need to hire a Kenyan teacher for the Kiswahili course as there are not enough competent Kiswahili teachers among the refugee population. This lesson will also be addressed in the project through early targeted recruitment of teachers in Kakuma camp.

Stakeholder Participation

One of the key strategies required to ensure program success is to build support for girls’ education and gender equality within the refugee communities. To accomplish this, a community mobilization strategy has been developed in Kakuma and which will serve as guidelines for the pilot project in Malawi. This strategy is developed in consultation with local stakeholders, which will involve two crucial engagement mechanisms: community mobilizers and PTAs.

In each of the camps, community mobilizers will be hired and trained in order to conduct awareness sessions on gender and education with parents, family members, teachers and other community members. Mobilization activities will occur before the start of girls’ remedial classes to gain support for the project from parents and community leaders and members. Community mobilizers will also provide ongoing support to the PTAs, including monitoring drop-out trends from remedial classes. The mobilizers will follow-up with the families of drop-outs and attempt to convince them to allow their daughters to return to school by highlighting the importance of girls’ education. Community mobilizers will also be tasked with consulting other community groups and community leaders (including religious leaders) in order to encourage and mobilize support for gender equity and girls education from a diverse set of community stakeholders. Additionally, PTAs will convene monthly parents’ meetings to highlight the girls’ progress in the project and discuss problems related to attendance and performance.

Why partner with WUSC? For over thirty years, WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) has mobilized Canadian students to sponsor refugees to come to Canada, complete a university education and start a new life. SRP is one of WUSC’s most reputable programs worldwide, helping to achieve its organizational mission to contribute to a more equitable world through education and training. While more than a thousand refugee students have benefitted from the SRP, there are many thousands more in the refugee camps seeking to improve their lives through education. WUSC has therefore turned its focus to addressing the barriers girls face in accessing quality education in the refugee camps.

Sustainability Strategy Beyond the involvement of the 60 million girls Foundation, WUSC will implement a multipronged strategy to ensure project sustainability. First, WUSC will continue to promote its Shine A Light fundraising campaign across Canada. Second, WUSC will assess possibilities for in-kind contributions through WUSC’s Students Without Borders program, for example, to offset costs. Third, WUSC will approach other donors for additional funds for the project. In-kind contributions could be drawn from WUSC volunteer cooperation programs to support teaching, research (baseline data collection) and monitoring and evaluation activities in the camps. At the same time, WUSC plans to promote the refugee education project to third-party donors, such as the U.S. State Department Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, World Food Program and UNHCR, through participation in donor networking events, management-level discussions and by submitting written proposals for funding.