As though the scars of war are not bad enough, child refugees arrive in Dadaab only to find education hard to get.
Those who squeeze into class live in constant fear of repatriation, while girls as young as 12 are married off to help put food on the table.
Dadaab has three camps, namely the Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo camps. Many students in the camps, particularly girls, drop out of school before the end of Standard 8.
Moreover, very few of the students who sit for the final exams in primary school qualify for secondary education.
This bleak scenario is highlighted in the latest report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency entrusted with managing the camps.
Shared by UNHCR Education officer Linda Kjosaas, the report notes that the transition from primary to secondary is also very low.
“Dadaab camps present 42 per cent enrolment at the primary level and five per cent at the secondary level,” the report stated.
In the chart shared by the UNHCR, of the 35,840 students eligible to enrol at secondary school level, only 2,737 have enrolled, of which girls are only 532.
In primary schools, 40,852 children are enrolled: 15,519 female and 25,333 male.
The Dadaab camps, located in Garissa county, represent the longest-standing and largest refugee camps in the world, hosting 210,556 as at March.
If Dadaab were a city, UNHCR says, it would be the third-largest in Kenya.
The education sector in Dadaab includes and is not limited to pre-school, primary and secondary school.
In the three camps, there are 22 primary schools and six secondary schools. In addition, there are six private schools following the Kenyan curriculum, as well as a number of religious schools (Madrasas and Duksis).
Why are students dropping out of schools at such high rates? The Star talked to students and teachers in the Dadaab Camp to find out.
The standard classroom-to pupil ratio set out by the INEE is 1:40, but Nyamouch Hoth, 21, from Ifo Secondary School, tells the Star they are around 80-100 in a class.
“Seven students share one desk. Ideally, the desk is meant for three students. It’s very uncomfortable,” she says.
She says very many of her friends have dropped out for the environment is not conducive for learning.
“When I started form 1 in morning hours, 90 per cent of the students turned up. But in the afternoon, only 50 per cent turned up after lunch break because the classes were congested and in the afternoon, temperatures can hit up to 38 degrees, making it unbearable to be in class. Many dropped out.”
Asked why has she held on to school, the form four candidate shows us sample portraits she drew herself.
“Art is what has made me hold on. I want to go to Kenyatta University to pursue a degree in design and open my own portrait company in Kenya, which will make me financially stable to support my guardians and my people back in South Sudan,” she says.
She stresses the importance of giving displaced children and young people opportunities to unlock their potential.
“We are the future and the future is now,” Nyamuoch says. “Young refugees have a lot of talent and they are very ambitious. So if you can prepare them for the future, it would be better for everyone.”
UNHCR Education boss Linda Kjosaas says for schools in Dadaab to reach the standard of 100 per cent enrollment and a classroom ration of 1:45, around 75 new schools or 1,800 new classrooms are needed.
Cindy Chadeur, 17, a form one student at one of the high schools in Dadaab camps, says early marriage has caused many girls to drop out of school. Girls 12-14 years old are seen as a source of wealth.
“Some parents actually encourage their girls to get married, while some girls voluntarily decide to get married,” Chadeur tells the Star.
She says young girls in the camps are increasingly choosing early marriage over school.
“My friend told me she was opting out of school to get married. I asked her about studies. She said when leaving the refugee camp, you won’t leave with education but you will leave with children,” Chadeur adds.
REPATRIATION AND POVERTY
Salan Aden, a former student of Waberi Secondary School in Hagadera camp, says repatriation creates a lot of anxiety and uncertainty.
Aden, 22, says many children are aware that anytime they might be repatriated back to Somalia. So parents find it a waste of time to enrol their children in schools, while others drop out.
“Some parents have already gone back to Somalia, and when they go, they go with their children who were in these camp schools,” he says.
He says there are those who have also registered themselves to go back because the Kenyan government keeps giving deadlines for refugees to go back to their countries.
Ahmed Suleiman, 17, says he dropped out because his parents could not cope with the educational demands, such as the purchase of books and uniform.
“My friends had all these items. I felt discouraged because of my constant poor performance and I dropped out,” he says.
At 13 years, he looked for some income-generating activities to support his family financially.
“We are refugees. We don’t have much and very few people work. We mostly depend on the agencies to support our lives in this place,” Suleiman says.
Suleiman says he was a very clever boy in school. He would score 80 per cent in mathematics and wanted to become a statistician.
The dropout says his parents send him to find firewood so they can sell it. “I have a sister who dropped out, too, and she works as a house help in some rich family in Hagadera for money,” he says.
LACK OF BOOKS
Dagahaley Secondary School headteacher Morris Muli says lack of course and revision books is a major cause of dropouts.
“A book can be shared by 100 students. So it is very hard to give assignments,” Muli says.
Teachers sometimes lack course books also, and it becomes harder to teach.
“This is demotivating. Teachers keep transferring from schools that are in the Dadaab camp,” Muli says.
He says this impacts greatly on the quality of education in the camps.
“We all use the Kenyan curriculum, sit for the same national exams, compete for the same slots in universities, but we are disadvantaged mostly on books,” Muli says.
There is no electricity in the Dadaab camps, so students cannot rely on the Internet for research.
Moreover, teachers are very few and work on double shifts, as one group of children attend school in the morning and another group comes in the afternoon.
“Teachers do not want to teach in the Dadaab because first, the environment is not conducive. Two, there is no hardship allowance,” Muli says.
According to the UNHCR latest report, there are 970 teachers in preschool, primary school and adult literacy centres. Only 186 of them are trained, contributing to low performance in the schools in the camps.
Muli tells the Star that when the agency is approached on education infrastructure or book material funds, it says it’s experiencing donor fatigue, hence they can only focus on sustainable, urgent needs like food.
In the UNHCR report, Sh17 billion is needed to fund the Dadaab camp projects, and they have only raised 12 per cent of the amount.
Abdullahi Mire has lived in the Dadaab since the 1990s. He says growing up in Dadaab was challenging but he completed school, passed and was given a scholarship to pursue a degree in Kenyatta University.
Mire, 29, is now back to the Dadaab camps with the Kenyan CBO Dadaab Book Drive, which has partnered with Books For Africa to support refugees in Kenya. He aims to empower the youth in the camps to read hard by helping them get books.
“Children caught up in conflicts will end up either as peacemakers or as peace breakers. The difference is the opportunities they get in exile,” he says.
“When kids come and they don’t get an education, we see a repeat of the war over and over again, because they don’t understand the causes of it.
“Our intention is to raise funds to ship 22,000 books to start the first working library at Dadaab Refugee Camp. Currently, there is one book for every 100 students in school, and none for those out of school.”
Mire hopes to reduce the ratio from 1:100 to 1:1. “This will enable each student to have a book to participate during the lesson and to study at home. Less than 2 per cent qualify for universities from the camp, and that’s what we want to change because we all use the Kenyan curriculum,” he says.
In April, Mire worked with other well-wishers to donate 5,000 books to students in Dadaab refugee camp.
“Most students are eager to learn because they know education can change the state of their home country, but they get demoralised every time the government threatens to close the camp,” Mire says.
His long-term plan is to have a library for the refugees.