UNHCR support helps end sleepless nights for struggling students in Dadaab

News Stories, 2 May 2014

© UNHCR/A. Nasrullah
Student Abdifatah stands at the door of a mosque in Dadaab's Hagadera camp where he used to sleep when he could not find a free bed. Now he stays in a new dormitory constructed with UNHCR funding.

DADAAB, Kenya, May 2 (UNHCR) Getting a good night's sleep was until recently almost impossible for 18-year-old Somali refugee Abdifatah, and this was affecting his studies and his marks.

A student at a secondary school in Hagadera, one of the camps in northern Kenya's sprawling Dadaab complex, Abdifatah used to share a bed in an overcrowded dormitory. "When I found the bed occupied by another student, I used to go back to look for a place where I could sleep. Sometimes I had to sleep on top of a locker or in the mosque. I even slept on the sand under a tree," he told UNHCR.

He was so tired during the day that he used to avoid classes. But his situation has changed considerably since the UN refugee agency opened a new dormitory building in early January to provide shelter for 80 of the neediest secondary school students, including refugees and locals.

Many of these students could not afford a place to stay and slept in the open. This had a negative effect on their studies and made them vulnerable to banditry, violence, insects and animal attacks.

Because of the discomfort, Abdifatah had been thinking of dropping out of school even before he finished primary school. His family had fled to Hagadera 16 years ago to escape the violence and suffering in Somalia. But his sister Amina encouraged him to stick at it, telling him that a full education would give him an advantage in life, wherever he was. He is now determined to complete his education.

"The stress of wondering where I will sleep at night is over," he said. "I am determined to achieve a lot, because my family is counting on me to be the main breadwinner and to lead them in the future. They are following my progress very closely," said Abdifatah.

His sister said he made the right decision and she expected him to do well, now that he has somewhere to stay. "My brother used to complain about his shelter at school, but he seems happy since moving to the new place and we are relieved as well. I am optimistic that he will complete his studies and go up to university," Amina said.

Abdifatah already has a career plan. "I want to become an ambassador," he says confidently. "Today, I am taking on responsibility in the dormitory, tomorrow I want to take responsibility for Somalia."

Staff at the secondary school have also noticed a difference since the dormitory opened. "You can see this facility has boosted the morale of the students. They are working harder," said teacher Jackson Kamau Kiragu, who added: "You will be surprised to see how they have been conducting themselves since this dormitory was opened."

The dormitory was one of four facilities constructed by UNHCR and opened earlier this year to support refugees and the local community in Dadaab, whose camps house more than 350,000 mainly Somali refugees. The other facilities include a town hall, new classrooms in a primary school, and a health centre.

"We want to give back to the community a little of what the community has given to refugees," Raouf Mazou, UNHCR's representative in Kenya, said at the opening ceremony, while pledging to continue helping the Kenyan host community.

By Assadullah Nasrullah in Dadaab, Kenya