Going to School at Illeys Primary

Posted on
Thu, 11/17/2011

Going to school at Illeys Primary:  Education in Dadaab

It’s a typical day at the Illeys Primary School at Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Through the sandy courtyard, you can hear the sound of bright voices echoing in song and recitation “The cup is on the table!”  Students shout gleefully- more or less in unison.  In one of the classroom tents, Farah Ali Abdi, is a teacher giving a basic English lesson to a remedial class. The group encompasses children ranging from 4 to 15 years old, all of them struggling to catch up in the hope of enrolling in regular primary grades. Fifty parents are lined up outside the gates eager to enroll their children. They’re drawn not just by the prospect of an education, but by the daily meals provided. The student body is swelling astronomically with the enrollment of new refugees, mostly fleeing drought and hunger in Somalia.

This modest compound of cement-block classrooms, designed for 1,500 students, packs in more than 4,000 children in two daily shifts with additional classrooms housed in tents.  Illeys School is close to the entrance area for arriving refugees, and new students are filling the room on a daily basis.  I’m constantly in awe by how ambitious the students are.  You can feel joy of their presence in the classroom, knowing they are the lucky ones that can seize the opportunity to learn—never taking it for granted even if classes are crammed under a tent.   

Furthermore, I see the collaborative efforts of Illeys’ educators and staff who work tirelessly to deliver education to the youth.  Most teachers here, like Farah, are refugees themselves, hired and trained by CARE. They work with patience and skill, with as many as 130 students in one classroom.  The five primary schools managed by CARE in Dagahaley camp are massively overburdened, with over 15,000 students. To cope with the influx, and help those who lag behind catch up to their peers, CARE operates special accelerated learning centers during school vacation. Yet, far too many refugee children receive no education- more than 60 percent of kids in the Dadaab camps do not attend school at all.

CARE’s work to improve educational opportunity starts at the community level. CARE staff along with educators, like Farah, are often residents of the camps who hold community orientations and go door to door in the camp’s residential blocks, advising families about the benefits of learning. CARE also helps adolescent girls stay in school, distributing sanitary napkins and training communities in how to dispose of them safely.

Students, teachers, and CARE staff take an active role in promoting access to education, recognizing that it’s a community effort in which everyone is invested.  Though there are challenges to providing education for every student, the joint community effort radiates an optimistic outlook for the future of those afflicted by the food crises.  Behind the daunting statistics and tragic stories, there is much cheerfulness in Dadaab.  Invigorating life can be seen in schools, in the market, at soccer matches—there is another side of Dadaab that emanates the positive outlook I see in the classrooms.  Life goes on; and it improves.

Turn off your TV, and tune in next week.  We’ll be exploring the other side of Dadaab that the news doesn’t cover—the beauty of Dadaab.

- Rick  

(photo by: Niki Clark, CARE)