Investing in Quality

Quenching the knowledge thirst – LWF’s contribution to refugees’ education in Kakuma

With about 175,000 refugees from 11 countries, Kakuma Refugee camp is among the most cosmopolitan areas in Kenya. This is one place in Kenya where communication is done in English, French, Arabic, Amharic and Swahili which are the mainstream languages that cater for the diverse nationalities and other ethnic communities living in Kakuma.

Majority of refugee-producing countries have no functional education systems especially in cases where displacement of large populations has been caused by armed conflict. The elite in the society usually flee directly to developed nations while the commoners are left to trek and cross international borders for their safety. These are the populations that end up in humanitarian camps, where the host nation, UN and international aid agencies struggle to meet minimum humanitarian standards to keep the population safe while providing life-saving and other critical interventions.

Apart from food, water, shelter and healthcare services, it has been agreed internationally that education is among the most critical interventions which is seen as a means of empowering the community to seek peaceful solutions to their problems as opposed to fighting. With education, a displaced population still has something they can use in future whether they remain in the camp, become integrated into the local hosting community, voluntarily repatriate or get resettled in third countries.

The laws of Kenya further provide for compulsory primary education and require that all children including refugees MUST attend school. But that is where trouble begins in Kakuma Refugee Camp because the camp is home to more than 107,000 children below 18 years. Out of this number, a total of 47,262 (26,881 boys and 20,381 girls) fall within the school going age of 3 to 14 years according to the Ministry of Education guidelines.

To put the matter into perspective, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is currently managing 32 schools comprising of 11 Early Childhood Development Education (ECDEs) also known as pre-primary schools and 21 primary schools with a combined population of 72,000 (28,000 female) learners. These are handled by 724 (636 Kenyan and 88 refugee) teachers. Only 21% of the total number of teachers is female. Simple mathematics indicates that the camp is far from attaining the minimum education standards.

The focus in the camp has always been on increasing access to education but LWF has been implementing various initiatives so as to improve the quality of education provided to refugees as well, with the third focus being on equity – ensuring that both genders are in school.


Congestion – An overcrowded class at a recently opened ECD centre operated by LWF Kakuma Sub-Program at Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement Site. Pic courtesy of LWF Kakuma 2016 ©

Despite the demand for education far outstripping the available resources, Kakuma refugee camp has gained fame and respect for its solid education programs which is thought to be of the best quality among the refugee operations in the region.

But what does it take to put all this together? Well, LWF reckoned the fact that it was very expensive and difficult to recruit qualified Kenyan teachers and deploy them to the camp. A learner population of 72,000 would ideally require about 1,800 teachers for whom the organization would have to pay salaries, accommodation and meals allowances, medical cover and other statutory deductions. A modest cost of US$ 600 per teacher per month comes to a monthly wage bill of more than US$ 1 Million which would be such a huge and unsustainable burden for any donor to shoulder. Matching the resources with the demand thus necessitated the recruitment of untrained teachers from the refugee community, specifically targeting those that have undergone the Kenyan education system and attaching them to work under supervision from qualified Kenyan teachers. This shadowing arrangement not only enhances community participation but also ensures continuity in cases where national teachers are unable to access the schools for one reason or another.

As the agency responsible for basic education in the camp, LWF has systematically and gradually been providing the refugee teachers with an opportunity to undergo various formal teacher training programs that eventually lead to certification, with an aim of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in the camp schools. LWF is currently supporting refugee teachers to pursue 3 main programs, all conducted by reputable public institutions and these include:

Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) teachers’ training

Currently there are 11,031 (5,699 boys and 5,332 girls) learners in 11 preschools managed by 138 (all refugee) teachers in the camp.

ECDE teacher training is offered during school holidays at the District Centre for Early Childhood Education (DICECE) in Lodwar town and targets pre-primary teachers, equipping them with relevant skills and qualifications to lay firm academic foundations for children as they prepare to join primary school. There are 3 levels namely ‘Proficiency’ that goes for 1 year; Certificate that takes 2 years and Diploma that also takes 2 years. Admission to any of the levels is thus based on the applicants’ Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) grades.

The US Government’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM) through the Lutheran World Relief (LWR) funds LWF to support 122 refugee teachers to attend various levels of the ECDE training every year. Part of the teachers’ contribution is by way of foregoing their holidays to attend classes, work hard and pass the examinations.

Since 2014, a total of 20 (17 male and 3 female) preschool teachers have been supported to attend the ECDE course out of which18 (15 male and 3 female) trained preschool teachers are still in active service, the other 2 having either voluntarily returned home, got resettled, or switched jobs.

There is still a gap of 154 (109 males, 45 females) preschool teachers who need to undergo ECDE training and for which additional support will be needed.

Primary Teachers’ Education (PTE) training

Kakuma Refugee camp has 61,518 (38,076 boys and 23,442 girls) in 21 primary schools managed by 586 (88 national and 498 refugee) teachers in the camp. This has a bearing on the quality of teaching and learning as the untrained refugee teachers often lack professional classroom management skills and are also likely to unknowingly violate the teachers’ code of ethics.

LWF is committed to change all this by ensuring that as many primary school teachers as possible attain professional teacher training qualifications. To achieve this, LWF maintains a long-standing memorandum of agreement with the Masinde Muliro University of Science & Technology (MMUST) to offer a tailor-made 1 year Diploma in Primary Teacher Education program for refugee teachers in Kakuma.

Since the beginning of this program in 2014, a total of 300 (241 male and 59 female) refugee teachers have graduated with a Diploma in Primary Teachers’ Education and the impact of the program so far is visible in the steady improvement in national examination results over the years.

The small number of female refugee teachers in the camp has a direct correlation with girl-child education especially in a camp set up where girls may drop out of school if there is no female teacher to act as a role model or mentor to look up to. At the same time, girls will also need someone that they can approach when faced with physiological changes, emotional imbalance and even harassment, which they may feel awkward when reporting to a male teacher.

As part of affirmative action, LWF with support from ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations) recently entered into an agreement with MMUST to design and conduct a bridging program that will specifically target both serving and potential female teachers, most of whom have been missing the minimum admission requirements for the Diploma program.

It is expected that the bridging course will gradually improve the number of female refugee primary school teachers progressing to the Diploma level and eventually attaining proper qualifications like their male counterparts.

The congestion in classes and the large number of candidates notwithstanding, Kakuma camp schools attained an average pass rate of 96% in 2015, which was way above the national average of 78%.

Year # of schools #of candidates Average score Variance
2013 13 948 259.36 +25.56
2014 13 1,500 259.22 -0.14
2015 19 2,939 269.34 +10.12

 A comparison of KCPE performance in Kakuma over the past 3 years

Special Needs Education

Kakuma Refugee Camp like any other community has Children living With Disability (CWDs) who also have a right to access quality education. It has been observed that some parents and caregivers of CWDs often keep these children away from school citing reasons such as bullying, discrimination and in many cases lack of adapted facilities, resources and trained personnel that can provide specialized care and attention to their children.

LWF strongly believes that every child must be granted an opportunity to access education, irrespective of their status. With support from donors such as the Australian Lutheran World Services (ALWS) among others, LWF’s Special Needs Education (SNE) Unit has been providing educational and psychosocial support to CWD living in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

LWF has an agreement with the Kenya Institute for Special Education (KISE) which is a public institution that provides specialized professional training for teachers who handle CWDs countrywide. Every year, ALWS funds the training of 15 refugee SNE teachers who undergo an intensive and examinable training that is usually conducted every school holiday by expert trainers from KISE.

All 33 pre-primary and primary schools managed by LWF in Kakuma have been adapted to remove physical barriers that would otherwise deter physically handicapped learners from accessing education. This includes installation of ramps, widening of doors and construction of disability-friendly latrines.

This dedicated attention is yielding impressive results so far as more parents and caregivers of CWDs are coming out and enrolling their children in school. There has been a 23% increase in the number of SNE learners from 916 (530 boys and 386 girls) learners at the end of 2014 to 1,130 (655 boys and 475 girls) learners as at July 2016. In 2015, LWF presented 5 SNE learners for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations with 4 proceeding to Secondary education.

SNE learners have also been participating in extra-curriculum activities such as Regional Music and Drama festivals within and outside Turkana County but have never participated in the National events for the last 2 consecutive years due to funding limitations.

Integrated learning – A learner with physical impairment attending class with other learners at Peace Primary School managed by LWF in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Pic courtesy of Bertha Wangari/ECHO ©

Overage learners

Finally, there is the delicate issue of overage learners who also yearn for education and have flocked primary schools alongside the young ones. Overage learners (mainly learners above 14 years of age) currently constitute about 34.65% of all learners enrolled in the camp schools. Some of the overage learners are actually young adults and their daily interaction with the young ones compromises the gains made in child protection as the presence of overage learners is likely to result into bullying among other possible forms of child abuse.

There was a huge sigh of relief when LWF finally secured funding from ECHO and EAC (Educate A Child) to launch Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) in Kakuma, based on the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) guidelines. Under this program, overage learners will have an opportunity to complete the primary school syllabus in 4 years instead of 8 and still sit the national primary examinations before transitioning to secondary school if they attain the minimum entry requirements.

To effectively implement Accelerated Learning Program, LWF is establishing 16 ALP Centers across the camp and will engage the services of national teachers with proven experience in running the Kenyan ALP model.

It is anticipated that this will help in decongesting the classrooms in the primary schools. It will also enhance protection for the younger learners as each class will mainly have age-appropriate learners. The dignity of overage learners will also upheld as they will only have their peers in class as opposed to sharing class with young children.

One previously unexpected outcome of the elaborate teacher training programs has been the notable high turnover of trained teachers – all for good reasons though. The 3 options available for refugees as durable solutions often include resettlement to 3rd countries, voluntary repatriation or local integration. LWF Kakuma takes pride in the fact that the trained teachers have so far fitted well and are adding value wherever their destiny – whether overseas, back home or locally.

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Economic Empowerment of Women

Economic Empowerment of Women

VSLA concept transforming Kakuma, Turkana West Sub County

The Turkana people are traditionally pastoralist and keep huge herds of cattle, camels, donkeys, goats and sheep but most of their territory is extremely dry and not suitable for large-scale crop farming. This has forced the ordinary Turkana family to adopt a nomadic lifestyle – often moving from one area to another, sometimes crossing international borders with Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia in pursuit of water and pasture for their precious animals. With the recent discovery of large deposits of oil and Kenya’s new devolved system of government Turkana County is poised to undergo massive transformation never seen before.

Meanwhile, the people of Letea Town a small hot and dusty rural trading centre in Letea Division of Turkana West Sub County, about 26 kilometers from Kakuma town are already celebrating, though for a different reason.  In mid 2009, a group of business-oriented women in Letea sat down and reasoned that they would only survive the hardships of life by uniting to form a group which would attract funding from well-wishers including the government’s Women Empowerment Fund. Loritit Women’s Development Group was thus born.

A few months later, LWF Kakuma Sub Program learnt of the group’s existence and visited the group members to understand the group even better. After a series of meetings and training the group members on Income Generating Activities (IGAs) and entrepreneurship skills, LWF supported the group with KES. 80,000 (currently equivalent to US$ 800) for IGA loans that group members could borrow to boost their businesses and pay back with an interest. Later in 2013 the group was supported with a matching grant of KES 150,000 (US$ 1,500) to boost their scheme. An evaluation of the program revealed that IGA loans were very unsustainable and did not eliminate the dependency syndrome. Meanwhile, across the border in South Sudan, LWF and Dan Church Aid (DCA) were working together to implement a new livelihoods support concept known as the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) or Table-Banking concept which was a more sustainable, empowering and dignified approach to livelihoods support. The VSLA had already been tried by other humanitarian agencies across the world, including parts of Africa and had registered impressive results by transforming ordinary people’s lives for the better.

LWF Kakuma immediately got interested in VSLA and the relevant staff in the livelihoods unit underwent an intensive training to fully understand and implement the concept. In the year 2010, 15 existing IGA groups from the host community were then identified for intensive training that was attended by about 30 group leaders who then proceeded to create awareness to all other group members and the community in general. Among the IGA group leaders who attended the training was Elizabeth Lokuau, the current chairperson of Loritit Women’s Development Group in Letea. After the training, Elizabeth went back and shared what she had learnt with her group members. “The group members were very excited about the idea and we started off almost immediately” recalls Elizabeth.

For VSLA to be successful, groups are constituted by people who know and trust each other and the first step was to allow for formation of groups of about 20 members each. “This is for effective management” says Ms. Helen Lipo, Livelihoods Officer who has been involved with VSLA groups since LWF Kakuma embraced the concept. Once a group is formed, members draw their own constitution under guidance, based on a standard template available at LWF offices. Elections are then held to identify group officials who must include the Chairperson, Secretary, Treasure, 2 Money Counters and 3 Key holders.

With group officials now in place, LWF lends more support through trainings on the VSLA concept, basic business management skills; Group dynamics; Conflict resolution, record-keeping among others. LWF also provides material support including ‘Passbooks’ for each member, office stationery, a tamper-proof steel cash-box and a set of padlocks. With all these in place, the group members are now ready to start Share purchase; Saving and contribution towards their ‘Social fund’ monthly as stipulated by their constitution. Each member buys the number of shares that they can afford, and qualifies for a loan depending on the number of shares held but there is a standard monthly contribution towards the Social fund.

Meetings are held every month and every member is required to attend. Those who can’t attend the meeting for genuine reasons usually send their contributions to the treasurer. “Minutes are recorded in every meeting, cash in the box is counted and members’ passbooks updated accordingly to reflect share purchase, loans and loan repayment and contribution towards the group’s social fund” explains Helen, adding that VSLA yields better results when no money is left idle in the cash-box. “Members are encouraged to take loans and payback so that the group gets adequate income from interest charged on loans. This improves their financial base.” It is recommended that in the first and second year of operation, all loans should attract an interest of 10%, deductible upfront and this is then adjusted to 15 or 20% from the third year. At this point in time, the groups are normally expected to be handling bigger volumes of cash due to the individual members’ improved economic status and thriving business enterprises.

At the end of every year, the group members converge for an Annual General Meeting (AGM) where the group leadership is dissolved, new officials are elected, dividends earned from loans are shared equitably among the members, full shares refunded and the any unused social fund shared out equally. Every individual member is at liberty decide what to do with their money.

Loritit Women’s Development Group members in Letea are living testimony that the VSLA concept is an effective and dignified method of community empowerment. Elizabeth is now a proud owner of a retail shop, a food kiosk and livestock in Letea. “With VSLA money, I have been supporting my 2 children in secondary school, providing their fees and other school items like uniforms, books and I can even afford to give them pocket money” she explains. Her fellow group member known as Arukudi also took a loan from the group to expand her second-hand clothes business while another member by the name Alice bought motorbikes for her transport business.

A look at the groups records shows that all members have been regularly taking loans and repaying back, with no defaulters and the chairperson attributes this to the fact the members know each other so well. She however says that according to their constitution, loan defaulters risk having their household items attached and sold to recover unpaid loans. In 2015, the group had a turnover of about KES. 1 Million (US$ 10,000).

The Social fund has also helped members during times of need like Esther Atula who once had a sick child and was admitted at Kakuma Hospital for 5 days. “The social fund money enabled me to pay the consultation fee, medication and bed for my sick child. I don’t know where else I’d have gotten the money from and my child could have probably died. My child survived and I thank God for this group” Esther says and adds that she took a loan and ventured into livestock business, buying and selling sheep and goats.

LWF Kakuma Sub Program is currently working with 54 VSLA groups, 31 in the host community and 23 in the refugee camp which currently have a combined group share purchase saving more than KES. 11,000,000 (about US$ 11,000) circulating in the groups to support the scheme in loan disbursement. According to LWF, plans are underway to take the concept to the next level and this includes transforming the groups into co-operative societies, a move which will allow them to handle larger deposits, issue bigger loans and continue transforming the lives of members and the area in general.



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Resource Center

Reception Centre – Exit Poll 201516

Complaints form 2016

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Defying the odds

Kakuma’s shining academic star

The dust has finally settled and top performing Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) class of 2015 candidates have had a week celebrating their achievements, some even gracing national TV stations to tell the whole world what it took for them to excel in the examinations. Some have even had parties in their honour as parents, siblings, former teachers and schoolmates seek to share in the glory – quite understandably and rightly so.

However in far away Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana County, 17 year old Margaret Awak Aguer is still coming to terms with her performance. Margaret defied all odds to score an amazing 400 out of a possible 500 Marks in the examinations and thus became the best student in the entire refugee camp where 2,939 (607 female) candidates from 19 primary schools managed by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) sat the examinations. The camp has 20 primary schools and 12 pre-schools with a combined student population of 71,972 (28,773 girls). The bulk of the funding for school facilities, payment of teachers’ salaries and provision of teaching and learning materials is provided by the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) but other donors also provide resources to complement these efforts. The World Food Program (WFP) supports with provision of a daily cup of porridge for all learners attending school in the camp. With the large number of learners compared to the few facilities and resources, it is very difficult to meet the minimum Education in Emergencies standards set by the Inter-Agency Network on Education in Emergencies (INEE), let alone those of Kenya’s Ministry of Education.

Shambe Primary School in Kakuma Refugee camp, which Margaret attended is a nondescript school with has a student population of 2,226 (838 female) but no proper physical structures and aesthetic beauty to write home about, in fact the classes are usually overcrowded and hold an average of 148 learners per classroom. That however, did not deter Margaret and her fellow learners from pursuing their dreams. In 2015, the school presented 219 (38 female) candidates for KCPE.

Margaret’s story is that of hard work, humility, discipline and desire to succeed in life, despite the obvious obstacles on her path. In 2010 at the age of 12, she arrived in Kakuma from Jonglei State, South Sudan accompanied by her aunty Sarah Abul, her younger brother and 3 other cousins, leaving her father, mother and two siblings behind as she pursued education at Kakuma Refugee camp. Her parents and the rest of the family eventually followed but she continued staying with her aunt Sarah because of the distance to the nearest school. “I really wanted to go to school immediately but every time I went, some older children would bully me and so I stayed home to avoid being bullied” says Margaret. She gathered courage and decided to confront her fears head-on and the following year she confidently enrolled in Class 4 at Shambe Primary School, about 2 kilometres from her home.

Like many other girls in similar settings, Margaret had to balance between studies and domestic chores like fetching water, firewood, washing and occasionally assisting her aunty with cooking for the family. “I enjoy cooking and can make very good mandazi” she says, adding that her aunty has always been very supportive and even bought a solar lantern to enable her study at night. “Whenever she came from school, she used to assist with the work, eat dinner and then study until around 11 pm. In the morning she wakes up at 5 am to fetch water, help prepare breakfast before leaving for school” says her aunty Sarah who happily adds that she has never had any cases of indiscipline involving Margaret since they started living with her.


Like most other girls living in Kakuma Refugee camp, Margaret Awak was often forced to balance between her studies and domestic chores like preparing meals for the family. © LWF Kakuma 2016

On the day the results were released, Margaret was unwell and had gone to the camp clinic for treatment. “While at the clinic, a boy who had also sat KCPE told me he had checked his results via SMS. Not knowing what to expect, I left the clinic without collecting my drugs and ran back home, bought airtime for my aunt’s phone and checked my results. I could not believe what I saw on the screen until I went to school and confirmed that I had actually scored 400 marks” says Margaret with a wide grin on her face. She also adds that it was a big miracle for her, having failed to finish the Insha paper and also having not done the County preparatory mocks due to sickness. “Kiswahili was the most challenging one for me” she says, though she still scored an ‘A’ with 80%. She is full of praises for her Kenyan class teacher known as John whom she says kept on encouraging and guiding the candidates as they prepared for the exams. “He brought us many books and revision material and spared his time to help us understand questions better.” explains Margaret.

Margaret now expects to join a national school, giving her an opportunity to go outside Kakuma Refugee camp for the first time since 2010. “I’m very glad I have successfully gone through my primary education. I want to study law and eventually become a judge” she reveals excitedly.

Some of Margaret’s best memories of school include the mid-morning porridge that provides learners with the much needed energy. “Some children go to school on empty stomachs and cannot even concentrate in class without that porridge” she says, adding that growing up and attending school in a refugee camp has taught her to always work hard and stay focused. “You can achieve anything despite your surroundings if you do your part and leave the rest to God” she says and quickly adds that “Success does not just come, you have to work hard for it.”

With the 2015 results, girls in Kakuma Refugee camp have now beaten their male counterparts to the number one position for the second time in a row. As a matter of fact, girls clinched all the podium places leaving the boys to scramble for the remaining places.

Fred Otieno,

LWF Kakuma

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