The Kakuma project: Improving lives through education

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Located in northwestern Kenya, the Kakuma Refugee Camp and settlement is home to about 180,000 people who have been displaced from their homes. The population is young with approximately 75 per cent of the people living there under the age of 25. While the Kenyan government allows refugees access to the 21 primary and five secondary schools available, they are overcrowded, resources inequitable and gender parity a challenge.

Our relationship with the Kakuma Camp began in 2010 with a clear goal to help address inequities in education with a focus on the training and education for girls and women. Since our involvement began, we have enhanced resources and access to learning through two flagship projects, the Community Technology Access Centre (CTA) and the Morneau Shepell Secondary School for Girls. Together, these initiatives are contributing to the advancement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 Quality Education and 5 Gender Equality.

Morneau Shepell Secondary School for Girls: Advancing the lives of young women

It is widely reported that girls hold the key to a better world and that with education, women will produce positive outcomes that improve the livelihoods of many. For girls and young women living in sub-Saharan Africa, systemic cultural and socio-economic barriers continue to prevent them from accessing the primary and post-secondary education they need. In the Kakuma Camp, the average gross enrolment rate for girls is 4 per cent compared with 21 per cent for refugee boys at the secondary school level. With too few schools, overcrowding and a population of over 80,000 school-age refugee children, many thousands of students especially girls are unable to go to school where gender parity is a particular challenge.

To address this inequity, the Morneau Shepell Secondary School for Girls is advancing the education of young women in the Kakuma camp who would not otherwise have opportunities to learn. Developed in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with financial support from Morneau Shepell, the school has become a centre of excellence for girls who show academic promise.

“I have found peace in such a way that I am able to interact with my fellow students who are from different communities. We share our ideas in school. In Morneau Shepell is where I am trained to be the future leader of tomorrow. “

Esther Nyakong, Student — Refugee girls beat the odds with education in Kenya.

Opened in 2014, today the school is home to 352 girls, representing 15 per cent of the total secondary school female enrolment in the Kakuma Camp. A multi-faith, multi-ethnic student body, the girls are selected based primarily on academic excellence, plus vulnerability, with 10 per cent of the spots for the local community. In the field, the day-to-day operation of the school rests with the Windle Trust and its team of 18 teachers, including eight women, and a staff of 20.

As the largest corporate donor to the UNHCR, Morneau Shepell is committed to providing CAD $1.375 million. Alongside our corporate support, employee engagement and volunteerism play an invaluable role in supporting the school. Through direct payroll deductions and participation in additional fundraising events, including an annual corporate golf tournament and marathon, employees are directly supporting the UNHCR in Kakuma. Over the past seven years, our employees have contributed $305,000 in funds to support Kakuma, which has been gift matched by the company.

The school is having a positive impact on the young girls in attendance as well as the host communities in the Turkana West sub-county. In 2018, the school produced the strongest results of all schools in Kakuma and the entire Turkana West sub-county where the school is located. With consistently high academic performance, the Morneau Shepell School was recognized as the best school in the 2018 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, exceeding 12 other secondary schools in the Turkana West subcounty (including schools in the refugee and host communities). Positive outcomes include:

  • A 400 per cent increase in the number of girls graduating from primary schools, up from 423 in 2014 to 1,690 in 2018
  • Higher number of applications for school placement reflecting both the reputation of the school as safe and conducive, and its value as a life-changing opportunity for students. In 2018, there were 458 applications for 90 form one spots and increase of 22.5 per cent since 2017
  • Superior academic performance as measured by the higher number of girls achieving university grade results, increasing from two in 2016 and five in 2017, to 13 in 2018
  • Produced the top student in the Turkana West sub-county for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018)

Since its inception, 216 young women have completed and graduated from the Morneau Shepell school. With each year of operation, more and more Morneau Shepell graduates are qualifying for postsecondary education and being awarded scholarships. In 2018, two Morneau Shepell graduates began their studies at a university in Ontario.

“When the school opened in 2014, only 423 girls graduated from primary education. In four years, that number has quadrupled to 1,690. Demand for admission has surged, with five times the number of applications than the School has spaces available. Not only more girls are schooled, but the quality of the education they receive means that for the past two years, the School has produced the topperforming student in the county.

Your investment in refugee girls’ education has a direct impact on themselves and their communities: you are helping pave the path to a brighter future for these young women, bolstering their opportunities for economic and career advancement, and also shaping the next generation of leaders.”

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, UNHCR Canada Representative