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Dadaab
is a town located in the semi-arid region of northeast Kenya, roughly one hundred kilometres from the Kenyan-Somali border. Surrounding the town are three refugee camps (Ifo, Hagadera, and Dagahaley) that stretch over 50 square kilometers. The camps were first established around the town by the UNHCR and the Government of Kenya in 1992 as a result of civil war in Somalia. Originally constructed to host 90,000 refugees fleeing war, the camps have expanded to host over half a million refugees at its peak. In 2011, Ifo 2 and Kambioos were established to accommodate for waves of refugees fleeing famine and drought in Somalia. These two camps were closed in 2017 following the mass relocation of non-Somali refugees to Kakuma camp in northwest Kenya. Ifo, Hagadera, and Dagahaley camp remain.

The encampments surrounding Dadaab are currently host to over 210,000 refugees. The vast majority of refugees come from Somalia (96%). The remaining population hail from Ethiopia, Sudan, and other parts of Eastern/Central Africa (4%).

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Rawlence, B. (2016). City of Thorns. Penguin Random House.
Joseph Mensah (York University, Department of Geography)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More than half (57%) of the refugees in the camps are under 18 years of age.1 Unfortunately, education in the camps and in the Dadaab region as a whole is limited. Those who can pursue an education, often limited to elementary school, face overcrowding, scarce access to materials and sanitation facilities, and poor instruction in many cases by teachers with insufficient training (see Teachers in displacement: learning from Dadaab). While some schools are staffed by Kenyan nationally certified teachers, the majority of teachers are refugees themselves who have received only elementary or secondary education. Of those that complete their primary school exams, even fewer can attend secondary school.

Educational attainment among all refugee, displaced and war-affected people in Kenya and Somalia is extremely low, and access to quality universities has been severely limited by decades of militarized conflict, displacement, drought and impoverishment. In Dadaab, only 33% of girls aged 5-13 are in primary school, and only 5% of those aged 14-18 continue in their studies.1

University education in Dadaab is even more fraught. Save for the six-year, GAC-funded Canadian-Kenyan Project Building primary/secondary teaching capabilities in the Dadaab refugee camps and locally in Dadaab, Kenya by increasing access to higher education (BHER), there are no tertiary education programs operating within the Dadaab camps. Low national test scores in the northeast region coupled with the high cost of tertiary programs make it nearly impossible for the majority of refugee (and local) students to qualify for Kenyan university degree programs. The only access to university-level teacher education afforded to people living in the camps is through scholarships sponsored by various NGOs programs that are limited to the minute percentage of top-performing young men and women. The scholarships awarded to these students are a great benefit to them, but they remove them from the camps and region and relocate them to universities in major Kenyan cities or abroad, a system that takes the brightest away from their own communities. The vast majority of students who do not earn top grades and oftentimes those with familial obligations (especially older women) are unable to apply for these opportunities. In addition to the systemic limitation of access to education, the chronic instability of camp life, constant threat of camp closure and relocation, scant resources, harsh environment and violent military activity of Al-Shabaab along the border all exacerbate the challenges to quality learning in the region.

These barriers are particularly acute for women. Chronic violence, cultural patterns of disenfranchisement, limited prior access to primary and secondary education all conspire to keep women out of tertiary teacher education programs, and thus out of schools and national education systems. This in turn only perpetuates the historical cycle of their exclusion. BHER seeks to overcome this cycle of exclusion through a targeted admissions process that aims to enrol 40% women and set them up for academic success through scaffolding and mentorship in the blended (online and face-to-face) Certificate, Diploma, and Degree programs offered in situ. We seek to meet all students where they are in their studies. Our programs currently operate out of the BHER Learning Centre located in Dadaab town. Childcare space is provided at the Learning Centre and all students are provided with a transportation stipend to ensure safe travel to and from campus. The Learning Centre is equipped with two computer labs, seminar rooms, and study spaces so that students are able to attend classes and learn together. 
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[1] https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/horn/location/179