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Kenya: Higher education delivers a learning experience

Liz Lock, the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Coordinator at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, during her video interview in June 2013. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

(Kakuma, Kenya) September 18, 2013 — Liz Lock, the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Coordinator at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, shares some of her personal experiences working with students at the camp in this story and video. There are about 120,000 refugees at Kakuma, from a dozen different countries. Jesuit Refugee Service has worked with refugees in the camp since 1994.

I have been working for Jesuit Refugee Service in Kakuma for slightly more than two years now, with the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) program for the entire time.

I came to Kakuma a month after finishing my master’s degree to work as a facilitator for a community development and organization track that was about to be started. In addition to helping develop a site-relevant curriculum for the course, I was put in charge of the 2010 diploma cohort. This meant helping to communicate with professors in the United States when needed, and assisting in explaining assignments or editing papers when the students required help. I have carried out my role of supporting this cohort through my transition to the current position of JC:HEM Coordinator in Kakuma. It is this cohort that will graduate in a few days, after completing almost three years in the JC:HEM program.

While I was not present from the very beginning (they started approximately eight months before my arrival in Kakuma), I still acknowledge learning a lot in the slightly over two years having worked with them. Between monthly meetings discussing benefits and challenges of both the specific classes and the program as a whole, and regular individual meetings, interviews, and conversations, I feel like knowing this cohort fairly well. And through that knowledge or because of it, I am immeasurably proud of their ability to complete an intense, three year higher education program.

This group of students, as with all of the others, has jobs, families, outside commitments. They have travelled across the vast camp regularly to meet with fellow students, submit assignments and conduct research. They have shared books and battled through assignments that didn’t make sense to them in subjects they had little experience in. They have done the opposite as well, enduring books that are delivered after classes end, dealing with demanding professors and difficult class topics they feel they are not well versed in. They have been the pioneers and have thus made us able to improve the program one step at a time, and they have been of invaluable help.

Many of them do not know what will come next, as with any major goal completed there are many options but no set paths. I don’t know what their next steps will be, although I hope to support them in whatever way possible. But I do know that they will all achieve something amazing. Whether they become leaders and return to change their home countries, or get resettled and transform refugee policy in their host countries, they will create reforms. Their paths could lead them in many different directions. 

I also recognize, as much as I know a bit at least about each of them, that all of them will make a difference in their families and communities. They will create change in the world because they all see things in their worlds that need change. They will make a difference and we will all be proud to have played a role in their lives, no matter how small.

by Liz Lock
Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins Coordinator

To read related stories, please click here.


Jesuit Refugee Service began work in Kakuma refugee camp in 1994 to respond to the thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Located in northwestern Kenya near the Sudanese border, the camp opened in 1992 and as of July 2012, hosts about 120,000 refugees. JRS provides refugees with the opportunity to build new skills for life outside the camp, through a psychosocial counseling and vocational training program, as well as support for primary, secondary and higher education.


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