Teaching and Learning in Complex Contexts: Imagining a Significant Future in Refugee Education

The Living, Learning and Teaching in Dadaab refugee camp (LLTD) project has organised for a symposium that will take place at UBC Vancouver location from 18th to 20th March 2018. LLTD is a research project that explores what it means to live, learn and teach in a refugee camp to help improve the opportunities available for refugee teachers for their sustained professional growth and continued learning.

There will be plenty of opportunities to interact and ask questions to educators and researchers on refugee education as well as some UBC students who are previous refugee teachers and have been involved with this research project for the last couple of years.

To register for this symposium, please follow this link.


Suleiman’s Success Story

My family and I arrived in Dadaab refugee camp in the 90s after the collapse of

the Somali central government, grew up in Dadaab refugee camp and studied up to my

high school. In the mid of my education, I was an outstanding student in mathematics and

science, and my hope of doing well in Kenya Certificate primary Examination (KCSE)

was high. My performance deteriorated when our card (UNHCR card), me and 2 of my

uncles and one aunt, has been called for our first interview for resettlement and this

caused me to give little intentions of studying since my luck represented itself for me to

go to developed country and live and study over there. Before my KCSE exam, we have

been waiting for the flight to the United States of America, this resulted in me to not be

able to attend one of the national schools the agency provided for the top performing

students, and I joined my high school in the camp. After waiting for three years for my

first flight, Situations changed, and they did not allow me to go with my aunt and uncles,

at that time. I was in my third year of high school, average in performance and heading to

my final year since my dreams of going to the "promised land" shuttered. I reached a

decision to stay away from school for four months, make, re-arrange my head, and start

fresh from form one. I sought guidance and counselling from my mother and my

headmaster; both stood with my decision for repeating into my classes, The Director,

Kingston Kirenge, give me courage and hope that I can do and become the top students if

I rehash in form 2, accepted it. From that day, the confidence I gained helped me struggle

and beat the stigma I used to receive from the people, “repeater” and “loser,” to be

successful. It is not always too late to make a decision, which has a long lasting positive

impact in your dream, always dream big and struggle to strive for your goals. Never lose

hope, hold tight to your prayers and work hard to be successful in life, nothing comes in

silver plate.

Abdikhafar’s Success Story

Many of us may agree with me that the best day in high school is the first day of admission, it’s when everyone is enthusiastic and proud of his/her achievement. We all look forward to having a good future with accredited certificate that reflects our best days in high school. But that was not the case for me, that day and even my first 2 years in high school were in limbo. It was uncertain whether we will actually complete high school and get a well recognized certificate at the end of our studies. This is because our school was entirely created by the community for the next best students of around 250 who couldn’t make to the regular high schools in the camps because of the limited opportunities that were available. Our new schools had therefore no recognition from either the Gov Of Kenya or UN, although our parents were hopeful that it will be recognized before we do the KCSE exam. In order to avoid others seeing me with the community school uniform, i used to put the white shirt in my back pocket until I reach the school gate where I usually use to put on. I did this because i didn’t  want to be associated with the community schools that most people regarded as “leftovers’. Every morning there were negative rumours in the school that quickly disseminate and turn most of us hopeless. Some of those rumours included; “UN will not recognize our school”, “we will complete our 4 years of high school within the hosting primary school” or “our exams were cancelled due to lack of budget.” Even sometimes some of my classmates will call me late at night while studying to share with me ‘new rumours’ thus forcing me to put aside whatever i was studying and head to the bed. However, there is actually one thing that kept me motivated to study hard and perform well despite the so many hurdles I encountered on my way. I realized that form 1 (grade 9) is the right place to have a fresh start and can be the best opportunity for me to be the person I was looking forward into and be different from the guy I was in primary school. Therefore, I convinced myself that even if I didn’t complete my 4 years in high school, for whatever reason, what I have gained will not be wasted and more importantly it will be useful some time in the future.


As a result,  I now strongly believe that turning deaf ears to those rumours was the best decision I have ever made. It helped me achieve my dreams of securing a scholarship from WUSC to study one of the best universities in the world (University of British Columbia). To sum up, what so ever person you were during your primary days does not dictate the person you will be in the future and there is always a room for improvement.

Mohamud’s Success Story

When I was in Form 2 in Ifo Secondary School, towards the end of the year the school administration told us to make subject selections such that each person will only study for 7 subjects, instead of the 12 subjects we were already learning, for the next two more years until the final exam. My ideal subject combination involved Business Studies and Geography subjects. Due to shortage of resources in the school, the subjects were grouped into 3 streams which meant for me that I am no longer able to select both Business Studies and Geography together. Realizing this and considering my passion for the latter, I was determined to go for Geography.

Soon came another news that the only geography teacher in the school was being promoted into an administrative role in Hagadera secondary school and would be gone in the next few days. I was in dilemma. Should I forego Geography although I saw myself as having a potential career in geography in the long term? Or should I go ahead with this plan and study by myself knowing that I won’t be getting feedbacks on projects and terminal exams let alone having someone to guide me through the geography curriculum.

After numerous consultations and critical analysis of my options, I had to go for the Business Studies stream. Time went by and I found myself through university. At this point I still had the geography interest. Luckily I found out that getting into geography here was easier than I thought. I only had to do some prerequisites. Today I am in the final year of university in a prominent field of geography called Environment and Sustainability at a highly reputable Canadian university.

Always plan in advance for what you want to be and how want to get there. Circumstances can be challenging and unplanned events can sometimes unfold along your study journey. Life is not a bed of roses and challenges are always there to make us stronger in overcoming the next one with ease.

Always be ambitious and set your goals right. But also know that there are very many options at post-secondary level when you have attained good grades at the secondary level. Work hard right now, no matter what subject combinations you chose or circumstances made you choose. It is only the outcome of this hard-work and the persistence to succeed that will make it easier for you to achieve whatever you dreamed of.

Ibrahim’s Success story

Everyone in this universe have got something or a moment that he/she cherishes and feels proud when they recall and that moment remains in their hearts forever, this is one of the moments that’s worth sharing and passing on to their children in the future. It could be a story, event or even small act of favor that means a lot to them. Similarly, I have such moments that I feel they are worth sharing too. First of all, let me make clear to whoever is reading this that everyone’s story has its own uniqueness and your story may not relate to mine at all due to difference in the geography we live or the religion, culture and tradition we practice. However, there is one part where we all feel the same and that’s we are all humans and we love to live happy and beautiful lives hence that’s what matters a lot and it’s where I am drawing the line of my short story. Remember I said we all humans, that means we are all capable of making differences if we put the right effort into it so her goes a short moment of my younger self.

At the age of seventeen, I arrived in one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, Dadaab Refugee camp, with the intention of nothing but only learning English language and going back to my home country(Somalia) after achieving that goal, I was ready and determined as well passionate about learning English hence didn’t see all other obstacles that were ahead of me, living in a refugee camp where I had no parents or even close relatives been the hardest of them. Upon my arrival I started going to private tuitions where English language was thought and there I started working hard and memorizing a bunch of difficult vocabularies that I even don’t remember most of them now. Three months later, I was able to at least read and understand the basic sentences and that gave me the courage of joining primary school and having primary certificate was something tangible than just learning language and going back so there came another plan, I joined primary school and I started from grade seven, I know what you are thinking of, how did I manage to go into grade seven and how was I able to compete with students that have been there since grade one, for the enrolment part, let say it was one lucky moment I got but when it comes to how I managed to compete with and catch up with other students, the fact is that I didn’t compete, I had my own competition with myself so that buries the hatchet I hope. To make the story short, I didn’t do well in my first two exams in grade seven but qualified to grade eight and thereafter started performing well that made me qualify for high school and then secure a sponsorship to study in one of the best university in the world (UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA) where I am writing this story from right now, so for you as a reader of this article what is the importance of taking some of your precious time? I hope you noticed that having one thing that you don’t feel bored about it is important and then been open to improving your plans is something you should always need to keep in mind but the most important that I would tell you to take out of this article is always focus on the opportunities instead of the challenges for everything you do there is a difficult path to go through.    


Dadaab Market

Dadaab, as many people who have not been there can assume, doesn’t have just one market, almost every camp has at least one or two markets. Although the shops in the markets might be poor in terms of infrastructure or general outlook of the building structures, it is laden with beautiful scenes of booming businesses and the drive to achieve, an epitome of a real market in any other part of the world. By the way, many business people in the camps can afford to build complex commercial buildings but don’t want to do so because of the temporary nature of the refugee situation in the camps- people are constantly and eagerly looking forward to opportunities to go to better places which may take longer time or never even come to materialize.

When you observe the variety of business activities in the markets and the overwhelming interactions among customers and business people, you will be amazed by how people are not constrained by the harsh conditions in the camps and the feeling of being a refugee, a realization that people are only refugees by name but not by status.

Apart from businesses, many people regularly go to the market to lessen their stress level, listen to words of wisdom from elders in designated meeting areas and tea restaurants, to get updated on local as well as regional news and politics, and finally just to pass time for people who are idle at home. On average, most people at least go to the market once in every day.

As the Somali proverb goes “give me a little space, I will create more”, support from family members or relatives who get resettled in the First World countries acts as  a head start to some businessmen in the camps. After that it is through determination, dedication and patience that gets them going in a business environment where local government regulations restrict entry of goods in to the camps, especially from Somalia. They struggle to achieve and strive to succeed. As Somalis are always termed as “business society”, there are plenty of role models, for an aspirant, who have transformed small retail shops into very large wholesale businesses despite all the odds.

Half A Tongue!

The eldest amongst them cleared his throat. “Hmm” he said, “Gentlemen, when a problem happens, we ask ‘how do we solve it?’ and not ‘how did it happen?’”

It is common to start trials with such words and it is usually meant to make the elders from the victim’s side see things outside the box and conform to the fact that the gathering is to find a solution and not create another problem. This time the case was between Fatima and Sahra who fought at the tap-stand where people fetch water. They disagreed on who came first between them and put an empty jerry can in the water queue. Fatima was known to be very aggressive and had previously fought with many of the girls in the neighborhood. This time Sahra was determined not to give up her position in the queue.

The engine of the water borehole had broken down a week ago and people had no water left in their homes for the last seven days. Other girls were shouting behind them encouraging them to fight. Each of them had her friends motivating and backing them to fight and teach the other a lesson. At this point, both of them stood with fierce looks on their faces, looking straight at each other.

“Dhilo yah … heey …” Fatima stepped forward with each word and jumped into Sahra.
Sahra was expecting this and registered it with a tight and ready body. She buried her legs into the wet sand soil around the tab. Water that had skipped from the mouth of the jerry can had wetted the areas around the tab stand. All of a sudden, Sahra was put on the ground and was bleeding furiously. All the other girls were shouting and jumping up and down, some with the excitement of a fight and others crying for help to separate them. The adults around them jumped in and separated the girls. Somehow, Sahra had lost half of her tongue in the fight. She could not speak or cry. Everyone saw her spitting blood. People around the tap stepped in to take Sahra to the agency hospital.

This was the reason why the elders had gathered today at the local meeting point under a big acacia tree. The headman of the Odoyaal kept speaking,

“We are here to address the issue of the two girls. The daughter of Ree Qansaxhas been assaulted by your daughter” pointing his hand to the man beside him who is Fatima’s father.

He kept speaking, “Our families have a tradition of washing our hands down. We usually say, ‘what did our forefathers used to do when such a problem happens,’ but this is a strange one and we have never seen it. We do not know how to recompense for half a tongue. We know that it is a very important organ and the girl cannot talk or even pronounce a word while she is “reading,” the old man explained.

Somali clans have their own way of valuing how much the victim will be compensated taking the values from previous similar problems and translating it into current values. The compensation is usually done through money or animals most often camel, goats or cattle. This particular case was difficult to value because it had not been seen before and it will have an impact on future similar strange cases. An overestimation or underestimation of the blood money will have a consequence on the mutual non-biding relations between family friends. Those families that are not friendly usually go for an eye for an eye kind of resolution. It is therefore very important to retain the friendship with other families. After all they cannot know who will be the next victim or the next victimizer.

After a whole day session, the elders could not reach an agreement on how much compensation should be given to the girl’s family. It is usually customary to consult with the Sheikhs during difficult times and seek their advice since the majority of people trust them and accept their judgment. The elders went to one of the respected Sheikhs in the refugee settlement and explained their situation.

After a lot of considerations, the sheikh asked the elders to call the girl and asked her to try to pronounce the Quranic alphabet, which is similar to Arabic alphabet. The girl pronounced ten of the twenty-seven alphabets. He ordered the girl’s family be given camels equal to the number of alphabets the girl could not pronounce. The elders looked at each other with amazement at the sheikh’s judgment. It did not underestimate or overestimate the compensation and was far more practical and conceptually appealing to the elders. As was customary, each team of elders went outside to reach a decision and when they came back they both accepted.

Why would Dadaab community appreciate higher education offered within Dadaab setup?

For the past 21 years Dadaab refugee camps have had primary and secondary schools as the only institutions offering education in the camps. Secondary schools were therefore viewed as the graduate schools in the camps.

Now, after many years of development, UBC’s Faculty of Education and Moi University in Kenya are collaborating to offer university education in Dadaab through the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees [BHER] project.

Higher education was thought to be impossible in the remote and isolated area of Dadaab but the professors made the impossible happen and launched Dadaab campus. This is the first time ever a university campus has been established in the north eastern province of Kenya.

The Dadaab community has appreciated this move, bringing great relief from the many challenges of living in the camps. Before higher education was offered in Dadaab students wishing to continue their studies beyond high school needed to travel to Kenya’s interior. School fees and living outside the camp are too expensive for most. Those who work for non-governmental organizations operating in Dadaab receive incentive pay that is used to support their families as well as their brothers’ and sisters’ education. Higher education in Dadaab provides a situation where students can receive their higher education as they support their families.

Dadaab campus will make it possible for young refugee youth to fulfill their future aspirations. Many students dream to pursue their education to a higher level and become professionals in different fields of knowledge. Now with Dadaab campus students can turn their dreams into reality.

Dadaab students hope the university education will impact their living standards. Earning a bachelor’s degree or diploma students expect to find decent and high paying jobs in different parts of the world. This will would elevate their living standards to a much higher level.

Moreover, Dadaab campus is convenient for the students. Since Dadaab is located a few kilometres from the three camps (Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera), students don’t waste alot of time in movement travelling to the learning center as opposed to travelling to Nairobi and Garissa for the same service. There is also the challenge of the policemen who conduct security checks on the travel within and outside Dadaab. But the funny part of the story is that the police can conduct thorough checks on refugee students who bear travel documents. This sometimes brings about challenges which include, but are not limited to: being delayed from classes, having travel documents vandalized, or being, abused, arrested or sent back to the camps. With a higher-education Dadaab campus in place, all these challenges faced by refugee students will be addressed.

Importance of training high school teachers in Dadaab

First of all, why are secondary (high school) graduates hired as teachers in their own schools as soon as they graduate? To answer this question, let me give a brief summary of how secondary schools are run in Dadaab. In Dadaab there used to be three secondary schools; one in each of the three main refugee camps that make up Dadaab camp: Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera. The number of untrained teachers used to be few. In the last eight years or so more people have fled to Dadaab, and as a result the camps were expanded with new camps eventually created. The increase in population meant that primary (elementary) schools have increased in population which has led to more students wanting to and qualifying for secondary education.. Currently there are seven high schools in Dadaab. They are managed by only one non-profit organisation formerly CARE International but now Windle Trust Kenya (WTK). Hiring trained teachers, who are all Kenyans, is costly for the NGO since they earn teacher salaries as well as free accommodation. The process of hiring trained teachers from Kenya is quite lengthy because they may come from different parts of the country. The refugee teachers are readily available; all have the energy and the potential to immediately start teaching their fellow refugees. However, refugee teachers, because they are untrained and non-Keyan usually receive meagre payments for their work.

Providing training to refugee secondary teachers like the Teacher Education Program facilitated by some universities in Canada and Kenya will expose teachers to use of technologies and proper teaching methodologies that they  can use in their day to day knowledge delivery. Untrained teachers may attach more value to the conveyance of the theoretical aspect of the teaching than the delivery method, evaluation and reflection on what methodologies worked and why they did or didn’t have any impact. Such knowledge upgrading programs will enable refugee teachers to develop and/or maintain the high level of academic and professional standards required of high school teachers as well as becoming more creative on their jobs and improve their teaching styles and skills.

Teachers may also become more specialized on some few subjects. It is common in Dadaab secondary schools that teachers are tasked with teaching a variety of subjects at different times. Specialization may build their strengths on a few subjects and make them more passionate about teaching those subjects. It can also enable them to track their progress as they teach the same subjects year after year. Students have different needs and teachers vary in characteristics. The program can create better incentives for teachers to acquire the skills that students want. This can allow for teachers and their students to be better matched together, and hence promotes growth.

Finally, due to limitation of resources Dadaab teachers are sometimes expected to handle huge workload which especially new teachers may have difficult to bear with that and can lead to burn out and stress. Training can help them properly manage  the challenges they face in their different areas of teaching, which can be directly or indirectly related to teaching, in an environment where all the life hurdles outside of school can easily affect teaching and learning in schools. The teaching skills they learn in the training can promote better ways of teaching and advance student-teacher relationship which can in turn improve the quality of education in Dadaab to a more impressive level.

Welcome to our website!

Living, learning and teaching in Dadaab (LLTD) camps is a research project that aims at improving the academic welfare of the refugee teachers in Dadaab. It is supported by the university of British columbia (UBC) and run along side with Moi University. UBC and Moi University run the Secondary Teacher Education Program which is the product of the project and is based in Dadaab. The two universities operate at a campus in Dadaab which not only benefits the refugees but also the Kenyan locals in Dadaab. Our existing relationship with Moi University  and Windle Trust Kenya focuses on building a teacher education program for Dadaab secondary school teachers in order to improve education for these teachers in the camp.  Windle Trust Kenya is a charitable trust engaged in Dadaab camps to provide higher education and professional training through the provision of English language classes, sponsorship in higher education and referral to universities in Canada and Europe. Windle Trust Kenya has provided educational support to refugee camps in Kenya for the past 20 years. It works closely with administrators and teachers in Dadaab’s seven secondary schools, and assists with arranging and hosting of the stay of professors in Dadaab and providing the necessary permissions and security needed for movement throughout the camp.