Rose Chelia from South Sudan arrived in Kakuma camp when she was only 9 years old in 2002. Separated from her parents and siblings as she fled for safety, her only company as she fled was her aunty who was kind enough to take Rose with her. While in Kakuma, she enrolled in Palotaka primary school in the camp and later admitted to the Angelina Jolie Primary School in 2005 – 2006.  For her secondary school education, she got private sponsorship and studied in Uganda .  In 2010, her aunt was resettled in the US, fortunately, by this time Rose was old enough to take care of herself.

Armed with a secondary school certificate, she got a job as an untrained primary school teacher in one of the schools in Kakuma refugee camp, a job she did from 2012 – 2013.  During the two years, fortune came knocking and Masinde Muliro University, a Kenya public university partnered with LWF and UNHCR to offer certificate and diploma courses in Kakuma.  Rose was the only female student in a class of 45  studying diploma in primary teacher education.

In 2016 when Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology pioneered the degree courses in Kakuma, they reached out to the only female candidate who had been enrolled in the institution.  Rose got the opportunity to pursue a degree in Bachelor of Arts degree in Disaster Management in Conflict Resolution and Humanitarian Assistance. “I enrolled even though I did not have money to pay for schooling. I was earning USD 68(KES 6800) from incentive work as an untrained teacher and paid USD 40 (KES 4000), which is what I could afford.”

Her thirst for education drove Rose to seek for scholarships and she qualified for the German Government Supported DAFI scholarship through UNHCR, a full education scholarship that enabled her to pursue and complete her bachelors degree.

“In spite of difficulties we face in life, our destiny is in our hands and we should seize all opportunities that come our way, “a cheerful Rose says.  She remains grateful to Dr. Ronald Michieka, coordinator for refugee studies who spearheaded the establishment of the Masinde Muliro campus in Kakuma, and gave her an opportunity to study with flexible payment terms for her education.

Lumumba Lusire, one of the lecturers in social work observes that Rose is dedicated, hardworking and focused. “Refugees learn with a lot of passion; for them, it’s a basic human need and a ticket to a better life, ” he observes.

Rose Chelia is among the 1% of refugee youth with access to higher education, while others have been left behind due to various reasons key among them cost. Since February 2019, Rose has been lecturing at the university as a graduate assistant, teaching disaster management at certificate and diploma levels. She is also a student at the same university studying for Masters in Emergency Management and Humanitarian Assistance.   Apart from lecturing, she wants to spend her time mentoring young girls in the camp on the need for good education.

According to a recent report published by UNHCR in 2018, Turn the Tide: Refugee Education in Crisis, finding solutions to shortfalls in educational access requires sustainable, long-term investment and planning. The report notes there are obstacles that could and should be overcome more readily, the most significant barrier to higher education being cost.

According to Mohamud Hure, UNHCR Associate Education Officer in Kakuma, “Education is central to the global compact on refugees, and UNHCR is committed to turning the tide to enable refugees get the education they deserve. To improve higher education access, UNHCR is setting up the Turkana West University campus in partnership with 10 universities and partners, both local and international.”

Hure explains that the campus is set to be open before the end of this year. The construction of such a higher education space will develop a refugee and host community talent pool, provide a platform for various training institutes to collaborate and donate/run courses and develop a vibrant community of tertiary institutions that work collaboratively to make the camp/settlement a global talent hub.

With the 2018 global education report indicating that only 1% of refugees have access to higher education, UNHCR remains hopeful that such local initiatives in refugee hosting areas will continue to bridge the education gap.