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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Transforming the Lives of Refugees Through Education

XP Education director Daniel Njuguna during a past Eneza event.
XP Education director Daniel Njuguna during a past Eneza event.

Despite the free primary education, many refugees cannot afford to pay the small levies charged by schools

When Edmund Page first arrived in Kenya in 2009, he never thought of starting a charity organisation until the day he was moved by the plight of refugees who had no access to education.

Page, from Cirencenter, Gloucestershire, England, says despite the free primary education offered in Kenya, many refugees still cannot afford to pay for the small levies charged by schools.

Edmund Page during the Queen's Young Leader's Award in the UK.

“I believe that everyone has the right to equal opportunities and protection wherever they live and whatever their background,” Page, a graduate teacher from Saint Andrew University, UK, says.

A few months later, Page started Xavier Project in Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa, where majority of refugees were seeking refuge due to availability of low cost housing.

“I was able to interact with most of the refugees and realised that their future was uncertain without education. I have helped a few but the number keeps growing,” he said.

Having opened Xavier Project offices both in Kenya and Uganda, Page believes that with good policies towards refugees, and adequate funding from partners, the number of refugees pursuing education will increase.

“Refugees are very vulnerable and what some go through is unbelievable. The number of urban refugees is increasing, many cannot cope with the situation in the refugee camps,” he said.

Edmund Page with refugees in Uganda. 

Xavier Project has opened Tamuka Learning Hub, at Kivuli Centre, Kabiria, fitted with at least 23 computers and loaded with educational software.

“Our aim is to make vocational and life-long learning available to all refugees even in emergency situations, primarily through the use of ICT,” Page says. Early last year, Page won the Queen’s Young Leaders Award for his charity work in Kenya, an award set up by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in partnership with Comic Relief and the Royal Commonwealth Society.

“Meeting the Queen was a big moment in my life; she recognised what I was doing in Africa. Like children anywhere, refugees also want an opportunity to learn and acquire skills they need to fulfil their potential,” Page says.

Through his determination to transform the lives of refugees in East Africa, Xavier Project has been chosen by the UN High Commission for Refugees as a partner to deliver its educational programmes.

“It is my desire to change the lives of refugees through education, and our partnership with UNHCR will enable us reach many refugees living in major towns in Kenya and also those in refugee camps,” he added.

The charity funds refugee children from Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Rwanda and other countries to be educated in Kenya and Uganda. Its 28 full-time staff educate local teachers on how to handle refugee students.

According to Liliane Ingabire, 19, a Rwandan refugee, and one of the Xavier Project beneficiaries, the project has opened doors for many refugees living in Kenya and Uganda.

Lilian Ingabire, Xavier Project beneficiary during the interview.

“My dream is to see other refugees changing the society perception, and education is what I will take back home,” she said.

She added that most refugees living in various camps still couldn’t access proper education, something that has contributed to their poor performance.

“Just like children anywhere, refugees also want an opportunity to learn and acquire the skills they need to achieve their full potential,” she says.

Ingabire’s dream is to become a software engineer so that she can give back to her community.

“I love computers and would like to come up with programmes that will facilitate communication and networking between people living in remote areas.

When asked whether she is willing to go back to Rwanda, Ingabire said: “I was raised in Kenya and I have lived with Kenyans. I do not know anybody in Rwanda, I just love this country’s hospitality.”

Daniel Njuguna, education director, Xavier Project, said through the Eneza Kenya platform, many children, especially refugees, have been able to go back to school since it makes learning easy through mobile short messages.

“We have recorded a bigger number of children both local and refugees who are very eager to learn. Eneza platform has really motivated many students,” he explained.

The latest rapid assessment survey conducted by Xavier Project in 2015 indicates that at least 34 per cent of the refugee children are out of classroom due to various challenges. Through their partnership with UNHCR and other stakeholders, Njuguna believes that the number will soon drop.

“No child should be allowed to stay at home. With education, the society can easily be transformed, and that’s what we are doing for refugees and other local beneficiaries,” he said.

UNHCR’s Education Strategy (2012-2016) aims to increase access to quality education opportunities for refugee children and young people, from early childhood education to university.

The UN refugee agency is also working closely with national authorities to promote the inclusion of refugees and stateless children into national education systems and to develop responsive, quality education opportunities where this is not possible.

Njuguna said through women empowerment initiatives, they have been able to sensitise women on the importance of education, since many refugees lack correct information regarding school admission.

“The refugees enrollment rate has really gone up. This is a plus for us as an organisation. We believe that when a woman is empowered, the society will also benefit,” he says.

Njuguna says early this year, Xavier Project will launch an Eneza pilot programme at Dadaab refugee camp.

“Although refugees living in Dadaab camp have experienced numerous challenges, we believe the programme will enable them learn even in the absence of their teachers,” he said.

“We believe that everyone has the right to equal opportunities and protection wherever they live and whatever their background. War and conflicts have really affected the lives of many school going children around the world.”

However, such initiatives will go a long way in reintegrating some of the 13 million children already driven out of class by armed conflicts.

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