IRC Program Brings Special Needs Refugee Children Into Camp Schools in Kenya
Mohammed is a 17-year-old Somali refugee who lost his sight in a Mogadishu bomb blast. Soon after, he fled to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, but did not enroll in a camp school because teachers there did not have the capacity to assist blind students.
IRC's education staff members at the camp finally convinced the school to admit Mohammed, offering "special needs" support. Mohammed, who had little formal education, started the third grade last year.
A trained teacher started teaching Mohammed to read and write Braille and he quickly excelled in his class work to the amazement of the school's staff and his fellow students.
"Suddenly, I see my life as happy and now I have more friends," Mohammed told the IRC. "I am able to compete with them in school work, and even do better than some of the other students."
The IRC has identified more than 800 special needs students at Kakuma, out of some 28,600 children enrolled in Kakuma Camp schools. They are either hearing impaired, physically handicapped, visually impaired or mentally or learning disabled.
The IRC launched its special education program in 2000. Prior to that time these children had to either make do with teaching methods that were not disability friendly or forego school altogether. The children are now mainstreamed into the camp's "regular" schools-ranging from pre-primary to secondary schools-and are encouraged to attend the school nearest to their homes, where their siblings go.
Samuel Ogwang, IRC program manager at Kakuma said the other students easily accept the special needs children and realize that they are gifted in many ways. "Because of the challenges they have faced they, these children have learned to overcome obstacles," he said. "They know many things that we do not know. But we help them when they ask us or we think they need our help," Ogwang added.
The team that assists these children is composed of 25 refugee teacher's aides and a supervisor. The teacher's aides work with the teachers and the special needs students to supplement the lessons and do not work with the children separately unless necessary.
Deaf children receive instruction from teacher's aides that have been trained in sign language at two Kakuma primary schools, and blind children receive special training in Braille reading and writing and blind mobility. Once it is clear that the children would benefit from regular instruction, they are mainstreamed into appropriate classes.
Deaf children are also offered vocational skills training in tailoring, weaving and carpentry at a camp multi-purpose center.
Mohammed has continued to excel in school, placing ninth out of 64 pupils in final exams this year. More important, the program has restored hope for the young man. "I now can work hard, and can become a teacher when I finish my education, something I had always imagined. But I lost hope when I was told that I had become blind," he said.