Dr Mary McFarland, International Director for Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) took a MAF Kenya flight when she and eight colleagues flew to Kakuma Refugee Camp. Mary is responsible for implementing the vision and mission of JC:HEM, which is to ensure those ‘at the margins’ of higher education, who would not normally be able to access learning opportunities, can do so. The organization is a collaborative global partnership, made up of many different parts, which combines both on-site and on-line resources to deliver education.
Initially established in 1992 to accommodate southern Sudanese fleeing civil war, the Kakuma Refugee Camp is also home to refugees from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia. Tertiary education for refugees has been available at the camp since 1998, with the first courses being completed through the use of the postal system, facilitated by scholarships from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Over the years, additional support in the form of IT access, library facilities, examination supervision and the provision of lamps for night-time study has also been made available. Since 2010, when it started in the pilot phase in partnership with JRS, over 1900 students have completed a JC:HEM programme of learning. At present 145 refugees are registered for classes at Kakuma Camp.
Chief Operations Officer Nick Griffin explains the purpose of this visit. ‘Our trip was focused on doing intake for our next class of graduates. We interviewed 70 candidates, men and women, younger and older, Christian and Muslim, Congolese, Sudanese, Burundian and Ethiopian. We were really, really pleased at the quality of this year’s student pool and look forward to admitting 35 for our liberal studies degree programmes, with concentrations in business, education and social work. The admissions process was assisted by volunteer faculty members from Gonzaga and Creighton universities in the USA, two of our partner institutions.’
Although founded and administrated by Jesuits, JC:HEM does not restrict anyone from joining the programme on the basis of age, race, religion or ethnicity, and is also actively seeks to recruit women into the classes. Many of the students practise religions other than Christianity, and for most, English is not their first language.
Nick further comments, ‘We departed Kakuma a day before World Refugee Day, and were reminded of the incredible hardships these communities face, every day. The challenges in Kakuma are no less indescribable, and the strengths and patience and insights among those refugees gave us all pause. Our delegation included a Jesuit priest who teaches Philosophy; he remarked at one point that the Kakuma students’ capacity for reflection reminded him why he teaches.’
The group was very pleased to partner with MAF in getting to and from Kakuma. ‘We were all very grateful for Captain Daniel’s skill and professionalism and commitment,’ Nick concludes. ‘Wheels up to wheels down, we knew we were in very good hands, and appreciated MAF’s support.’
The JC:HEM students at Kakuma, and indeed all the refugees who live there, in many ways represent the core of MAF’s vision: isolated peoples. It is a privilege to partner with an organisation also committed to reaching those who have been marginalised, to bring hope for the future.