“You can’t achieve anything in this world without education” says Serafina, a South Sudanese student at Nairobi’s Sud Academy.
Sud Academy, a community school opened by South Sudanese refugees in 2002 to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds — both refugees and Kenyans — pursue a quality education.
According to Benjamin Omondi Asomba, who has been teaching at the school since it opened, one of the biggest challenges faced by refugee children arriving in Kenya is being accepted into the Kenyan school system.
“They have often missed a few years of school because of conflict, and many local schools do not want to mix children of different ages, even though they are at the same academic level,” he says.
Sud Academy, which currently has about 200 students enrolled, seeks to provide education despite these challenges. Around 80 percent of children who attend the school are refugees – mostly from South Sudan – but the school actively welcomes Kenyan children from the local community who could not otherwise afford school fees or associated costs.
“It’s very important for us to have refugees interact with the host community,” says Benjamin. “Not only does it help with learning the local language, but it deepens understanding between cultures.”
One of the other teachers at Sud Academy is Ayuel, a refugee who left South Sudan for Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya in 1999. He has been teaching at Sud Academy for the past seven years.
“I want to give back to my brothers and sisters, and show them that through education and determination, you can achieve anything,” says Ayuel.
Many of the refugee students dream of one day returning home, and Ayuel want to make sure they can re-integrate into their country: “We encourage them to learn about other cultures and take the most positive sides of them, but not to forget their own,” he says.
One of the goals of the school is to form capable and skilled individuals who can help with the rebuilding of their country. Serafina is one of those who dreams of going back: “I want to be a teacher in South Sudan,” she says. “My teachers at Sud Academy are helping me a lot, so I would like to do the same for children in my country.”
But for others, the thought of going back is marred by the terror of war. “I don’t know what happened to my mother during the conflict. I want to go back and look for her,” says Elizabeth, a 16-year-old classmate of Serafina’s. “But after everything that happened, I would rather go abroad to live.”
The academy relies solely on the support of the community and private donors, meaning that finances are often a challenge.
“We would like to take in more students, but we struggle with the lack of space, books, and other materials” explains Benjamin. “What we pay teachers is also far below the average, so the ones who work here do it out of passion and a wish to help children in need.”
The students agree that although the level of education is high, the lack of teachers means that progress can be slow.
Despite the challenges, Benjamin remains committed to his students: “I am proud of what we have achieved, despite our challenges.”