UNHCR support helps end sleepless nights for struggling students in Dadaab

News Stories, 2 May 2014

© UNHCR/A. Nasrullah
Student Abdifatah stands at the door of a mosque in Dadaab's Hagadera camp where he used to sleep when he could not find a free bed. Now he stays in a new dormitory constructed with UNHCR funding.

DADAAB, Kenya, May 2 (UNHCR) Getting a good night's sleep was until recently almost impossible for 18-year-old Somali refugee Abdifatah, and this was affecting his studies and his marks.

A student at a secondary school in Hagadera, one of the camps in northern Kenya's sprawling Dadaab complex, Abdifatah used to share a bed in an overcrowded dormitory. "When I found the bed occupied by another student, I used to go back to look for a place where I could sleep. Sometimes I had to sleep on top of a locker or in the mosque. I even slept on the sand under a tree," he told UNHCR.

He was so tired during the day that he used to avoid classes. But his situation has changed considerably since the UN refugee agency opened a new dormitory building in early January to provide shelter for 80 of the neediest secondary school students, including refugees and locals.

Many of these students could not afford a place to stay and slept in the open. This had a negative effect on their studies and made them vulnerable to banditry, violence, insects and animal attacks.

Because of the discomfort, Abdifatah had been thinking of dropping out of school even before he finished primary school. His family had fled to Hagadera 16 years ago to escape the violence and suffering in Somalia. But his sister Amina encouraged him to stick at it, telling him that a full education would give him an advantage in life, wherever he was. He is now determined to complete his education.

"The stress of wondering where I will sleep at night is over," he said. "I am determined to achieve a lot, because my family is counting on me to be the main breadwinner and to lead them in the future. They are following my progress very closely," said Abdifatah.

His sister said he made the right decision and she expected him to do well, now that he has somewhere to stay. "My brother used to complain about his shelter at school, but he seems happy since moving to the new place and we are relieved as well. I am optimistic that he will complete his studies and go up to university," Amina said.

Abdifatah already has a career plan. "I want to become an ambassador," he says confidently. "Today, I am taking on responsibility in the dormitory, tomorrow I want to take responsibility for Somalia."

Staff at the secondary school have also noticed a difference since the dormitory opened. "You can see this facility has boosted the morale of the students. They are working harder," said teacher Jackson Kamau Kiragu, who added: "You will be surprised to see how they have been conducting themselves since this dormitory was opened."

The dormitory was one of four facilities constructed by UNHCR and opened earlier this year to support refugees and the local community in Dadaab, whose camps house more than 350,000 mainly Somali refugees. The other facilities include a town hall, new classrooms in a primary school, and a health centre.

"We want to give back to the community a little of what the community has given to refugees," Raouf Mazou, UNHCR's representative in Kenya, said at the opening ceremony, while pledging to continue helping the Kenyan host community.

By Assadullah Nasrullah in Dadaab, Kenya

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in December 2006

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