What refugees can teach Kenyans

11Jun 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
What refugees can teach Kenyans

I saw a cemetery in Kakuma. The Luhya in me wondered rather stupidly how sad it must be to lie buried in the sweltering heat of a foreign land. Stupid because when you die, you remain dead and oblivious of the nonsense around you.

The refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab are not the sort of place a randy Nairobi goat can thrive because sex partners are as scarce as rain

We had landed minutes earlier, after flying across hundreds of miles and miles of bloody Africa – a swath of unending empty space without anything remotely capable of fornicating.

But I smiled, knowing all Nairobi’s conmen would descend on this semi-arid scrubland like pack of hungry wolves the moment a dollop of oil was discovered in the bowels of the earth.

We checked in for the night at an NGO camp. My journalistic nose couldn’t help sniffing the cloud of hormones ripping across the dining area like an evil wind.

The refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab are not the sort of place a randy Nairobi goat can thrive because sex partners are as scarce as rain. But I bet that is not the main reason why the government wants to shut down the Dadaab camp.

Be that as it may, I spent two weeks sweating in those two places and came up wiser and humbled. First, I met three young Kenyan Somalis who are so passionate, intelligent and knowledgeable that I cursed democracy.

Those three boys can run rings around most of the clowns the people of North Eastern Kenya have elected to represent them in Bunge, but if they stood for MCA, they would probably get two votes.

The second thing I learned concerns education. I bumped into refugee kids who are capable of outscoring our spoilt brats in Nairobi, never mind that they practically learn in condemned buildings and that most of their teachers are untrained refugees who are paid a stipend.

I spoke to teachers “from Kenya” who are employed by NGOs and you will never meet a more committed, competent and enthusiastic bunch. These guys are churning out successful pupils and students in harsh, remote environments where the likelihood of dying by the sword is as high as farting in your sleep.

I met a bunch of parents who are so committed to the education of their children that they fence schools, fix gates, escort teachers to school and counsel students.

But what intrigued me most is that refugee schools routinely perform better than schools in the host communities of Dadaab and Kakuma, that refugees employ the locals, and that girls are now besting boys in communities where 13 years of age means you are ripe for marriage.

Reason? The girls want to fly, trained counsellors are at hand to fire them up and NGOs are pumping in money, books, solar lamps, scholarships and sanitary towels and teachers.

The refugee camp at Dadaab seems set to close. But before those shelters are torn down, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Knut boss Wilson Sossion should spend two days there talking to the kids, parents and teachers.

In those two days, they will learn incredible stuff that Jogoo House has never heard of and also get a moment to taste the best boiled goat meat south of the Sahara.