Teaching in a Refugee Camp. Part 2

Imagine this. You arrive at school at 7am and the temperature is already 30 degrees. By noon, it will be well over 40. You haven’t been able to work at home because you share a room with your three siblings and there are few resources available to you. After assembly you teach from 7.30am until 4.30pm. Your students, like you, are refugees, and although many of them were educated in their home country, and are hoping to pass their school certificate, you are desperately short of resources to help them.

Your blackboard is rendered useless by the relentless dust that blows constantly through the open gaps in your walls and through the door. The gaps are necessary to stop the students from suffocating, but they make teaching on windy days difficult. The dust covers everything; books, desks, the children in minutes. Every day is windy. Although the school tries to make sure that upper primary – the grades preparing for exams – have a notebook and pencil, the pages disintegrate in the dry heat. It is almost impossible for them to keep a record of their learning. And with over 150 in the class, it is hard for you to do anything other than stand at the front and hope they can hear you. Your students have hopes and dreams. They tell you, in fluent English, that they wish to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers. They hope to attend universities. But there are no universities in the refugee camp. Still they try. They hope. One even makes a little tie out of cardboard and fastens it to his shirt so he looks smarter.


Your teaching is constantly interrupted by smaller children peeping through the door. Grey from dust, clothes in rags, hundreds of children roam the playground. Some are tiny – too young to attend school. But their only carers are older siblings and so they come in at 7am and stand in the hot dust all day waiting for their brother or sister to finish. Some cram into Grade 1 classes and even though they swell class sizes to 200, they join in. When lower primary finishes at 12 there are even more children roaming the school site, because many of the children would rather stand in the dirt than go home. Some have no parents and the adults they live with are strangers to them. And there is little to return to – tents are stifling in the heat. The other teachers understand this. They let them stay – no one is turned away. image

This is life for Nancy, aged 24 – a highly intelligent, articulate and aspirational young teacher. This is Hope School. Home to 7008 children taught in just 26 classrooms. Yes, you read that right. There are several schools in Kakuma. But Hope is the newest, set up in response to the huge influx of South Sudanese fleeing warfare at home. The environment and conditions at Hope are probably the most challenging there are. There is no shelter from the hideous dust and rocketing temperatures. In older, more established schools, there are some trees and bushes to give some relief. But not here.


The school desperately needs resources. The children chant that there are 100 cms in a metre, but they’ve never seen a ruler or measuring tape and when I produce one, it becomes clear that they didn’t know how long a metre was or how tall they were. One of the first things I do is draw a height chart on their wall with sharpie markers. But it’s not enough. They need maps, books, mathematical equipment. Even pencils. One child approaches us. “Madam,” he says “I wish to become an engineer but I do not have a pencil. Can you help me?”

New classrooms need to be built so that class sizes can be reduced in order to make teaching even remotely effective. I can’t even begin to explain how shocking it is to witness this level of difficulty; how heartbreaking. I’ve barely been able to teach. My eyes and throat struggle to cope. The children crowd around you longing to touch your hand and so many are hard to manage. When they sing “goodbye teacher” it breaks my heart. And our teacher training sessions feel like wishful thinking, though they are deeply appreciated.

No amount of well meaning visits will help these children. The support and infrastructure that the UNHCR offers is truly astonishing. But they can only do so much. They need money. So that’s what I hope we can really do. UK teachers together, standing shoulder to shoulder with these teachers and saying “We hear you.”

Please give. Every penny will make a difference. The infrastructure is here. Tom stands ready to build. We could have a classroom standing in less than three months.

You can donate through our Just Giving page here. https://www.justgiving.com/ww-ep – please leave a note saying that you are donating for the classroom challenge in Kakuma.

Or for a smaller but highly significant donation, text WWEP01 £3 to 70070 Thank you.

13 thoughts on “Teaching in a Refugee Camp. Part 2

  1. Thanks for this Debra. What I find overwhelming ( in the best possible way) is the hope and cheerfulness of the children and their teachers when there is every reason to despair and be cynical. It binds you to people so that every bit of you is determined to fight for their right to an education. More power to your elbow! I’ve dobbed in an offering but please ask that the walls be built of local mud construction and not metal sheeting. It’ll be more comfortable in that heat and more sustainable. PS pals tell me that beer bottle tops are an amazingly versatile classroom resource – has Heineken made it to Kakuma?

    1. Hi Maria. Thank you so much. They tried building the schools out of mud right at the beginning. They fell apart due to termite attacks and wear and tear from the erosive dust and wind. They have a brilliant and specialist construction team here who have tried many designs and the metal/mud combination works best. These are the coolest classrooms I’ve been in among the three models I’ve seen – tents, mud and metal. They also withstand the wind, can be replaced piece by piece and as we found out yesterday, the metal can act as a resource wall if you have access to magnets.

  2. Done – wish I had more to give but I can certainly give again later in the year. Wishing you all the best with the training and hope the staff and students are soon in new classrooms x

  3. How can I find jobs in a refugee camp? I want to teach English and help in the growth and development of the young generation

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