Going to school in a refugee camp

young children at school sitting on benches and rocks
Photo: Pixabay

Refugee camps usually have very crowded schools with limited supplies.

Education is about embracing knowledge. I have always hated school but admired education. I will share with you why school was the last thing I wanted to do. I grew up in the Tanzania refugee camp called Mtabila refugee camp.

In my camp, the large number of students enrolled in schools both in primary and secondary kept increasing incrementally. This caused the educators to seek help from organizations like churches to donate their buildings as classrooms.

Imagine sitting in a church: there are four classes being taught at the same time – one in each corner. Since the churches have benches that are sometimes longer than the grocery lines at Walmart, this also means that bathroom breaks were at times denied depending on how many times you’ve gone.

But as I look back to my experiences from attending school in the refugee camp, that is the least inconvenient thing I could think of. Let’s get down to what school is like in a refugee camp.

Textbooks are limited

For ten years living in the refugee camp, not even once was I ever given a textbook to keep. Not mentioning regular books to read which I rarely saw. A textbook was only borrowed and shared with other students. We took notes from the blackboard the teacher used. A lot of notes. I thank the benefactors who are bringing technology to schools in the refugee camp.

You have refugees who are not only ready to learn but ready to earn their education. However, the lack of resources is still a foreign language to those who live outside the barbed wires or the refugee camp—to be more exact.

Today, there are a number of refugees who still do not have access to education, books, or any learning material. Not getting access to education is worse when you are hungry for information, but intuitively and physically aware that no forest was ever once an author.

No funds equal fewer opportunities

Though it is a refugee camp, economically, a family who might have five goats might afford to help their children dream bigger than the family of none. I remember seeing kids my age in the streets or quit school simply because they did not have enough funds to pay for their schooling. As an outsider, education is affordable in refugee camps. But for some of the refugees who reside in the camp, education can be quiet expensive.

Sometimes it is easy for refugees to quit school simply because they do not see the value of it. Imagine being born in a cage like a refugee camp and growing up in the abandoned zone. You grow up seeing unproductive environment throughout your life and only see a successful lawyer, a successful businessman, or a successful role model once in a while.

You cannot improve what you do not know. As a refugee, I can never say I ever dreamed of becoming an archeologist when I do not know what that is, nevertheless if they even exist. It’s difficult to dream about something that was never presented in your mind. So refugees are always happy to see in person those who are successfully doing what we sometimes dream to be: doctors, businessman, engineers and actors or actress to name a few.

Nepali family of parents and young children
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Based on where the refugee camp is located, schools differ in so many different ways. Depending on the culture, some school teachers whoop students who show disrespect or are late to school. This is one of the ways used in disciplining students which sometimes works and sometimes is worse depending on the individual.

For me, too much whooping was a way to increase my disobedient and rebelliousness to others. In other words, this was a way to harden my heart to not have fear of anything that could come on my way. I hated school because I never liked to be whooped as a way of educating me. By the time we were about to come to the United States in 2008, I had already quit school because of the immense anger that had risen from all of the negative consequences I suffered.

Students in a refugee camp are hungry

Due to the growing number of refugees, some refugee camps do not offer any type of meals to the student body. In my camp, school started at eight in the morning and we had to go home at noon for lunch. Then the school was back in session at one forty-five to five in the evening. It was a full day and it was the most sufficient way of keeping students busy and involved.

Activities in a refugee camp

School activities can get very competitive. You have soccer players, basketball players and volleyball players to name a few. There is competition throughout the school year for different sports. I always like the soccer season because it was one of the most competitive sports in my camp. However, there are a great number of students who would like to play sports like tennis and golf, but never get a slice of chance. Those sports are quite expensive for the schools to have them, and refugee students only wish if they could ever meet the opportunity to make a golf swing.

On behalf of refugees whether in a refugee camp or outside, I want to thank you for helping us and making a difference in our lives.

Perhaps I can elaborate more on my statement. The quarter, a dollar or more that you, friends or your family might have had donated to a charitable organization to help refugees to see tomorrow. For me, your tremendous support has helped me grow into a man whose mission has been set to make a significant difference in people’s lives.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.