As the war on Ukraine rages on, the western world is waking up to the harrowing realities that Black and Brown refugees have suffered for decades. Those who did not need any further evidence that the current refugee resettlement structure is broken, are taking time to reflect on the areas that need more attention.
The UNHCR reports that as of January 2022 the total refugee and asylum seeker population in Kenya was 539,766 divided across Dadaab Camp (234,040), Kakuma Camp (175,371), Kalobeyei Settlement (43,730), Urban (Nairobi, Mombasa & Nakuru 83,977) and Urban (Eldoret 2,648). This population is 479,978 (89%) refugees and 59,788 (11%) asylum-seekers.
Migrants (in this article used as a catch-all phrase for people who seek or need urgent relocation) are not a monolith- something the world is learning far too late. They are people of different backgrounds and demographics who need continuity to build successful lives in their new homes. A massive collaborative effort across government, nongovernment, community, corporate, and education sectors is the ideal approach to effective resettlement. But the structure was founded on transiency and has not evolved to accommodate emerging needs or processes that take years to complete.
One gaping deficiency is in the life-saving intervention of education. Continuity of education in emergencies has been proven to significantly reduce the physical and psychosocial impact on children and communities. It is an important tool for providing equilibrium or a semblance of normalcy, instilling hope, managing the effects of displacement, and giving vital information or survival skills relevant to their context.
Additionally, keeping children and or adult learners engaged, can provide a safe space for play, and protect them from further violence and exploitation including sexual exploitation, forced labour, early marriage, and recruitment into armed groups.
Here we talk to Teach for Kenya fellow, Racheal Vichei. She believes that we are all lifelong learners and that the fundamental right to education should not be denied to anyone anywhere.
TIA: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do Racheal
Racheal Vichei (RV): I’m based at a public primary school where I teach all the subjects- as a lower primary teacher it is common to be the class teacher and instruct your students in every subject. I don’t mind it because I am passionate about education as a whole and I pursued a Masters of Education; Education in Emergencies; at the University of Nairobi. This qualification was important to me because working with refugees and helping them gain quality education, regardless of the emergencies and disasters they have experienced, aligned with my passion.
This is why I also run regular sessions with migrants and refugees under the Bosch Alumni Network as an impact field host.
TIA: That’s a very unique qualification. Other than a strong passion for education what influenced you to take that particular route?
RV: When I was finishing my undergraduate I was an avid reader. Somehow I kept finding myself reading many books written by people advocating for refugee rights- I started with one then another until it became a regular thing. The Kite Runner by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini particularly helped me draw many parallels between the refugee experiences in Afghanistan and those in Kenya. By the time I went for my post-graduate, it was already settled in my mind that I would focus on refugee education.
It all worked out because I found out my Alma mater had the very course I wanted.
TIA: And now that you are doing what you set out to do, what has been your experience so far?
RV: It took a lot of learning and personal growth to participate in the space. Ordinarily, you find NGOs and development-based institutions working in this field but here I was, an individual trying to do my part. I pushed myself to make informative posters, create content on refugee education and find collaborative opportunities with like-minded organizations.
That’s how I found my way to the Kakuma refugee camp. I had sessions with girls in the secondary schools there to better understand their experiences and challenges because dropout rates surge at this age.
This was part of my postgraduate degree research- to implement a study at the camp that focused on the influence of female teachers’ protective intervention measures on refugee girls’ participation in secondary education.
TIA: Given their first-hand accounts, why do you think that is?
RV: They have a lot on their plate at that age, especially in this context. They have to manage their schoolwork and daily tasks, help take care of their siblings and deal with new aspects of their sexual and reproductive health that no one is guiding them through or advocating for. So they feel stuck and frustrated.
But my study found that female teachers at Kakuma play a crucial role in protecting refugee girls and ensuring that school is a haven for them.
If we don’t prioritize education for these vulnerable groups then we will have a generation of people with shattered dreams, and lives. It is my dream to see every refugee child access their fundamental right to an education that will protect their physical, psychosocial, and cognitive wellbeing
— Racheal Vichei
TIA: Is Kakuma the only camp you’ve worked in?
RV: I’ve also worked in urban refugee camps to build literacy clubs for the little ones. The aim is to teach them to read and write in the language of instruction of the country they are settling in. It is difficult for them to not only learn a new language for the sake of survival and basic communication but to also learn it enough that they can be taught in it- this is a whole other level of proficiency.
My fieldwork has taken me to camps in different countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
I’ve also been assisted by the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) which fully advocates for refugee education and have up to date resources that educators can use. Also with Teach for Kenya we can utilize the global network- Teach for all, to help students all over the world.
TIA: What are your thoughts on alternative teaching methods or contextual learning that goes further than the assigned curriculum?
RV: That’s usually the best course of action-creating specialized curriculums. There was an initiative that I was a part of in the DRC and we came up with a curriculum that was best suited for that emergency. We used technology and educator resources for innovative teaching methods and materials that are unique to that group.
Racheal Vichei is an Education in Emergencies practitioner, teacher, and researcher. She is a holder of Masters of Education; Education in Emergencies from the University of Nairobi. Her specialties focus on designing and implementing educational projects, from the emergency phase to post-conflict situations. She has worked with different organizations as an advocate for quality education such as the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and Teach For Kenya among other organizations whose work is ensuring students faced by emergencies get quality education/ She also works as a Migration Impact field Host with Bosch Alumni Network, a platform that tackles global issues.