“Working in a refugee camp requires addressing basic needs in addition to providing programs that allow for flexibility while holding students accountable to high standards.”
A graduate of Kepler, a program that works in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University to offer US accredited degrees to students in East Africa, Landry Sugira is an advisor in the Kepler Kiziba refugee camp.
When I was growing up, my parents used to ask me, “what do you want to be in the future and what does it require in terms of education to reach there?” I thought that this question was a bit ridiculous because I did not fully understand how important education can be. Since obtaining my degree and now working as an advisor in a higher education program, I understand why they asked that question.
I work on-site at Kepler’s second campus in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Western Rwanda. Kiziba is home to Congolese refugees that have been in Rwanda for 20 years. Kepler opened in Kiziba in 2015 and many supporters still speak of how unbelievable it is that a university program is operating in the camp.
So far, 20 students from the 2015 intake have graduated with their Associates of Arts degrees from Southern New Hampshire University and we’ll have more AA graduates from our second intake. The first group is also working on their Bachelor’s degrees with expected graduation in 2018. All students from 2015 have participated in a remote internship or an internship outside the camp.
In Kiziba women often fall behind in school due to different factors. We support female applicants with a preparation program to improve their English and Math skills. This has allowed Kepler to get to a 50% male & 50% female student body at the Kiziba campus.
“Kepler opened in Kiziba in 2015 and many supporters still speak of how unbelievable it is that a university program is operating in the camp”
Working in a refugee camp requires addressing basic needs in addition to providing programs that allow for flexibility while holding students to high standards. In Kiziba, there is no electricity. Kepler began by using a generator, which was limited in the number of hours it could be used. When Kepler Kiziba started, it only had one classroom.
We have worked closely with UNHCR and Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs to solve these issues. In 2017, Kepler was named an inaugural member of the Humanitarian Education Accelerator program.
“From an academic standpoint, many Kepler Kiziba students start at a disadvantage of having interrupted education or going to school under stressful circumstances”
The program has supported Kepler in the research around scaling and replication and also supported the solar power system which allows for continuous electricity for our tech-based programs. Our funding from the IKEA Foundation has also allowed us to provide laptops, supplies and Internet.
From an academic standpoint, many Kepler Kiziba students start at a disadvantage of having interrupted education or going to school under stressful circumstances. Also, some are married and/or are employed. We ensure that students can move at their own pace through a self-paced phasing model that includes small group and differentiated instruction.
I have enjoyed teaching at Kepler Kiziba for many reasons, one of them being because I have had a chance to solve a variety of problems. Sometimes, you plan lessons that need internet, but it suddenly goes off, or the power is out and laptop batteries are dead!
Teachers have to be ready to change the plan. Also, teachers have to support students with frequent absences through coaching or office hours. Absences are sometimes caused by resettlement meetings and other factors that teacher and students do not have control over. I feel challenged in my work, and I believe this is a good experience for me.
Even though there are still challenges, the Kepler Kiziba community believes that refugees are ready to have a bright future.