IKEA Foundation-funded livelihoods and education project helps Somali refugees become self-sufficient

News Stories, 3 December 2012

© UNHCR
Per Heggenes, chief executive officer of the IKEA Foundation, with young refugees.

KOBE CAMP, Ethiopia, December 3 (UNHCR) Bonkay may seem a bit old to be going to school but, like her classmates, the 23-year-old mother and refugee missed out on a proper education in her village in central Somalia's Bay region.

Now, they are catching up on their schooling in an Ethiopian refugee camp thanks to the Youth Education Pack, or YEP, a UNHCR-backed programme implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council and funded by the IKEA Foundation. It targets Somali refugees and local Ethiopians aged between 15 and 24 who have little or no formal education and initially focuses on literacy and numeracy training followed by vocational and life skills classes. The aim is to teach people new skills and help them become self-sufficient.

Bonkay is illiterate and has never studied before. In July 2011, the combination of general insecurity and the worst drought in more than half-a-century forced her and her husband to leave their village with their two children. "We used to farm and keep livestock, but they all died because of the drought and we were also in danger of losing our two children," she explained.

They walked for nine days to Dollo Ado in south-east Ethiopia, joining tens of thousands of others in what is now the world's second largest refugee complex after Dadaab in Kenya. The five camps in Dollo Ado, including Kobe where Bonkay lives, host more than 170,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia.

After arriving in Kobe camp, Bonkay and her husband spent time getting settled before thinking of the future and how to make the best use of their time. Her husband failed to find work and the family were completely dependent on assistance from UNHCR, its partners and the government.

But Bonkay was not content to sit back and rely on others, she wanted to "study and work to support myself and my children." Then, as she recently explained to Per Heggenes, the visiting chief executive officer of the IKEA Foundation, she heard about the YEP programme, which is only run in Kobe.

She enrolled to take a basic literacy course and to study maths, followed by vocational skills training, and told Heggenes, "I want to become a cook and open my own restaurant." She will learn culinary skills once she has finished the literacy and numeracy training.

The various YEP courses all free run for one year and the students are encouraged to use what they have learned to set up their own businesses, with help from the Norwegian Refugee Council.

About 400 students, half of them women, are taking part in the programme, studying in a makeshift building while the Norwegian Refugee Council builds something sturdier. About 280 are refugees and the rest come from the host community, while the teachers are recruited locally.

Moses Okello, the UNHCR representative in Ethiopia, welcomed the programme and the IKEA Foundation's support. "When the refugees arrived here in 2011, we were focused on life-saving activities," he noted, while adding that "now we are able also to turn our attention to consolidate the gains made by offering the refugees an opportunity to study and acquire skills that they will eventually take home with them."

His enthusiasm was echoed by Hegennes, who said those working on the programme in Dollo Ado had "embraced the concept of innovation and efficiency" and were "creatively pursuing opportunities to improve the services for refugees in ways that have not been done before."

The YEP initiative is part of a three-year partnership between the UN refugee agency and the IKEA Foundation to support refugee and host communities in the Dollo Ado region. The overall aim is to reduce dependency on aid and promote self-sufficiency in this arid, isolated region.

This includes helping the host community that has welcomed so many vulnerable people. During his visit, Heggenes handed over water pumps to local farmers and visited 120 transitional shelters built for them by UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council with IKEA Foundation funding.

The local population will have access to all the infrastructure built under the programme, including health facilities, schools, water systems and solar power systems.

Other important aspects of the IKEA Foundation-UNHCR programme include a shelter project to research, pilot and develop alternative ways to lay out a refugee camp. Another project is the construction of a new health centre in Kobe which will be able to provide minor surgery and treat emergency cases and pregnant women. The latter must currently travel for about three hours on a bumpy road to receive specialist care.

Bonkay, meanwhile, is starting to feel hopeful again. "Nobody can take my skills away from me, they will not disappear like my farm and livestock did," she said as she played with her two-year-old son during a break from class.

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Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

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