In the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwest Kenya – with its dust storms, malaria, and malnutrition – one can earn a Diploma in Applied Liberal Studies from an American university. Students are fighting hunger, cholera, and scorpions to study Margaret Mead and Jane Addams in 100+ F/40+ C degree heat. This kind of blows my mind. (This photo of the camp is from http://kanere.org/, a refugee free press.)
The degree program is administered by the Jesuit Refugee Service‘s Higher Education at the Margins Program, and the degree is sponsored by Regis University in Colorado Springs. According to the JRS website, the model builds on the “expertise of the expertise of Jesuit universities and JRS field staff” to advise the program. A similar program is also offered for refugees in campus or urban centers in Jordan, Malawi, and Syria.
The program itself is a model of development: investing in “young bright things” (my own term) who will contribute in the future of the camp. In addition to anthropology and philosophy, students also take courses in business, leadership, and conflict resolution. And they’re learning critical thinking skills. And social organization skills. Should these refugees return to their home countries, they will take these lessons to South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, DRC, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda.
But the story gets even brighter (pun intended): The JRS just announced that the Kakuma program is now running by solar power. Of course, there is plenty of sun along the equator, so this is a wise use of resources. Plus, power breaks occur often, and generators require fuel and are expensive. So, this advent is a tangible investment in the camp infrastructure. Good stuff.
Yet the reason I chose to include this post is different. I wanted to provide an example of higher education growth as part of international development. One might consider universities or training centers as a gift that keeps on giving: build a program, oil it well, and it will train years of future thinkers, practitioners, leaders, and citizens who contribute to their country. Or so the theory goes.
There are likely hundreds of examples of how building infrastructure in higher education buildings, libraries, labs, etc. is helping with the country’s – or the camp’s – economic and social development. I hope to find and blog about more of them. Feel free to include other examples in the comments section.