Teaching in refugee camps: A Challenging or a Rewarding Experience? – Yueu Magot Majok

For the fifteen years I have been in Kakuma Refugee Camp in North Western Kenya, I was a student and I eventually became a teacher. During this period, I had a blend of many rewarding as well as challenging experiences about life as a student and as a teacher in a refugee camp. Many people have asked me questions such as “what do you think about teaching here and teaching in Kenya” and I usually don’t know where to begin. Perhaps you will get the answer to these questions when you read this blog.

I started school in 1994 in grade one and eight years later I was going to high school where I had to be far away from home. After graduating high school, I came back home and I had no hopes for getting into any university because I could not afford to pay myself through school nor could my family. It was then that I started volunteering in a local primary school. After volunteering for six months, the principal liked my work and he recommended that I apply for a paid teacher position. When I did that with the recommendation from the principal and the zonal supervisor, I was hired. I was paid three thousands Kenyan shillings a month which was around US$40. It was the first paying job I ever had and I was happy. I taught in primary school in the year 2006 for around two terms, then I applied to teach in high school, and surprisingly I was hired to teach Math. My pay went up to 4200 Kenyan shillings, which was around US$50.

There were many rewarding challenges that I went through during my teaching in Kenya. First, I had to learn to keep records and plan lessons. I attended a two days workshop about teaching, which I found helpful, but I had to learn most of the things on my own when I started teaching. I made friends with teachers that had teaching experience to help me out with documents such as lesson plans, record of work covered, progressive records, evaluation techniques and many other necessary documents. Even though having to deal with students was a big challenge, it helped me improve my leadership and people management skills. For the first time, I had to thoroughly read the material I was going to teach to be fully prepared. I did not have technology to developed effective visual aid for my lessons and I had to improvise many things to create them. As challenging as it was, teaching in Kakuma Refugee Camp helped me developed many useful qualities and introduced me to my first job.

Teaching in the camp was not very effective as it would have been in other parts of Kenya. There were many challenges that arose from three major parties: the agency financing the education, the teaching staff, and the students themselves. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) ran the schools in the camp with mandate from the UNHCR. They did not have enough budgets to fund three secondary and over 25 primary schools which each had over a thousand students. So they hired only a very few trained local Kenyan teachers and the rest were mostly unqualified refugees of which I was one of them.

I do believe that lack of monetary stability among teachers hindered their motivation to teach. There was no monetary motivation because at the end of the day, the teachers have to go find other ways to make money to support themselves and their families. Most teachers taught not because they love doing it as a profession but because they wanted that little money. There was a tendency for teachers to try and get away without finishing their course syllabuses. The huge problem was that there were no permanent teachers. All the teachers that were hired would teach for like a year or two and then leave. The causes for this could be numerous but the common ones where when refugees go back home on repatriation, find another job in the camp, or go on resettlement. The few local Kenyan teachers knew that the jobs in the camp were temporary with no employment benefits so when they get jobs in local schools, they leave the refugee schools.

Being a student in a refugee camp was not easy for many reasons. Students all the same lacked motivation and this was mostly reflected on the female students. The girls would spend most of their outside-school time doing household chores leaving little time for extra studies. Students would spend the entire day at school and the only meal they had at school was porridge and dinner later at home. Necessary resources such as the library, computers, study lamps, etc., where not available. Even so, motivation for any future chances for getting into university were unseen while family and cultural issues all the same bring down the will of students who could otherwise have been successful. School rules and regulations were very loose and it wasn’t even a big deal if students didn’t finish their assignments, miss classes, or arrive late in school. Still some students did extraordinarily well by obtaining good grades and education level that a student in a well-organized school with all the necessary resources could achieve.

For sure it is true to state that only the strong-willed would manage through both primary and high school in refugee camps for many things could make any refugee student side track their path to higher education. To me, it was always a matter of chance, time and luck.

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