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JRS Expands Special Needs Education at Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya
March 27, 2017

JRS Expands Special Needs Education at Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya
Children in Kakuma Camp (JRS/Christian Fuchs)
JRS designed a new outreach project that identifies more children and families that need assistance in psychosocial, personal care and education services.

In the northwest of Kenya, 120 km from the border of South Sudan, lies Kakuma Refugee Camp, home to more than 180,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, DR Congo, Burundi and South Sudan. Life in Kakuma isn’t easy for those who live there, having left their homelands due to war or persecution. Poorly constructed shelters with overstretched water and sanitation facilities and disease outbreaks make life in the camp harder.

In the middle of such complex challenges, persons with special needs and disabilities are overlooked and remain the most vulnerable within the camp. A significant number of children and adults are exposed to trauma and mental health issues as they face multiple challenges of violence, poor health and malnutrition. Some are also born with intellectual developmental delays causing them social, behavioral and communication challenges. Most people born with development disabilities are stigmatized or treated differently, causing additional trauma. Sometimes their community doesn’t accept them or they are seen as a burden.

Jesuit Refugee Service recognized this deep-rooted problem in Kakuma and for the past 15 years has implemented educational programs for refugees including those with special needs. JRS tries to meet the challenges of people with special needs by giving them a space to be with others that have similar difficulties, creating their own community together.

Liana Tepperman, Program Officer at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, recently visited Kakuma Camp and observed how this approach changed the lives of many adults and children who otherwise would have suffered from isolation and idleness. She noticed how the daily activities structured to engage them with educational and vocational training give them a sense of belonging and they don’t feel a burden anymore. The training they receive such as tailoring and bead making also develops their income-generating skills when they graduate from the program.

As the number of refugee arrivals increases due to persistent fighting in South Sudan, JRS acknowledged the need to expand and intensify its program. They designed a new outreach project that identifies more children and families that need assistance in psychosocial, personal care and education services. The project also aims to include advocacy activities that create awareness about disabilities and strives to reduce associated stigmas.

Starting in January 2017, this pilot project allows children with special needs and their parents to access education programs and achieve academic and functional goals that support their future livelihoods. According to Tepperman, the new center also aims to expand the scope of JRS services by building a new day care center for these children. This helps to take them away from crowded classrooms that do not allow them to receive the special attention they deserve. The center aims to reach an additional 200 students that need individual care and educational services.

The new program also reaches out to children with physical disabilities through community outreach and referral programs. Based on educational and functional assessments, these children are provided with targeted educational interventions depending on their individual needs.

Tepperman explains the new outreach project includes renovating school venues to be accessible for people with physical disabilities through the installation of wheelchair paths, disability-friendly latrines and the elimination of environmental hazards such as pits and large rocks. In addition, the project will provide transportation services to help the children move around and easily access services in the camp.

This pilot project is expected to continue in 2018, training existing and new staff and identifying more students through the assessment center. By the end of the two years, all services of the special needs center will be well established and it will continue to be a place of hope for the children where they can participate and thrive within their society. 

Reported by Simegnish Mengesha /Lily/, Masters in Foreign Service Candidate, Georgetown University

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