Photo and article by Sophie Vodvarka while working as an intern with Jesuit Refugee Services Eastern Africa
Kenya: Distance-learning program provides hope
7 December 2010 (Kakuma, Kenya) — Every day Bol, a 26-year old paraplegic man, pedals his hand-powered tricycle an hour each way from his home through Kakuma refugee camp to attend the first introductory training sessions for the new Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC-HEM) distance-learning accredited university courses that are scheduled to begin in January.
Bol fled his home in Sudan because of ethnic conflict and political difficulties nine years ago. He first moved to Lobone in the autonomous region of Southern Sudan. He later settled in Kakuma refugee camp, located in the desert of the Turkana region of northwestern Kenya. He first came into contact with Jesuit Refugee Service in Kakuma through its Mental Health Programme.
“I joined JRS as a student participant in basic counselling skills for two months, became a community counsellor, then I applied for this [JCHEM] course and am succeeding as a student. This is the only programme like it here”, Bol said.
“I feel very happy to be here in this programme…. Life is very difficult without studies, without school it is stressful in a refugee camp. We [refugees] think, after this, where will we be? If we go to Sudan we need an education to get a job,” he continued.
This latest Jesuit initiative by JRS and Jesuit Commons – Higher Education at the Margins – seeks to offer refugees opportunities to broaden their minds and help their communities. The new distance-learning programme will offer a two-year liberal arts certificate, with course subjects including leadership, business and Jesuit values.
“I want to be a leader somewhere so I can show despite being a disabled person I can do what ‘normal’ people say they can do. I want to be a lawyer; that is my first choice. To get access to education here in Africa is hard because of fees, if it wasn’t for JRS I couldn’t do anything,” Bol explained.
The upcoming referendum in Southern Sudan on 9 January 2011 on independence from Sudan has been on Bol’s mind a lot. Many Sudanese are afraid it will lead to further outbreaks of violence in their country and have heard rumours they back be forcibly returned to Sudan from Kenya.
“There is no chance for resettlement [to a third country from] here. If you are just waiting here you are killing your life. So this year I visited Sudan and I saw the situation, it is a difficult situation. That is why I feel better here. We disabled people are the first victims [in unstable countries],” Bol continued.
“In most communities disabled people are not respected. People think you’re not contributing to society. In the future I will be a productive person, to give services to other people and the community will use me,” he added.
In the pilot phase of the programme, ending in August 2014, more than 1,000 refugees in three sites in Kenya, Malawi and Syria are expected to participate. The organisations plan to use the internet and on-site teachers, mentors and tutors, to offer accredited certificate and diploma courses to refugees, as well as certificates of learning, known as Community Service Learning Track.
At the end of each year, the students will receive Certificates of Completion from Regis University in Denver, USA, and after three years of successful studies, they will be awarded their diplomas.
Article originally appears on Jesuit Refugee Services Eastern Africa’s website here.