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Educating for agency

Learning to transform the lives of young people in Turkana County, Kenya

Photo of Mia Eskelund
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Refugee and host community, aged from 16 to 28, and living in Turkana County, Kenya, are the focus of this project. Turkana county houses Kakuma Refugee Camp and the neighbouring Kalobeyei settlement which between them house 186,692 refugees from countries including Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, DRC and Burundi. The problem we are tackling is the lack of learning opportunities for youth that goes beyond primary education in the Turkana county area. This is due to a prioritisation of primary education in emergency settings, the fact that secondary education requires more resources than primary. The fact that Turkana county is located in a very rural area, means that there are also few post primary education opportunities for local host community students. Young people in the area know that education is really important to creating a better future - but a lack of opportunities locally mean that they often feel stuck and lacking of agency. Combined with existing tensions between the refugee and host community, this lack of agency can also result in discrimination and even violence. Our solution is to work closely with local communities to provide short programmes that enable young people in Turkana to access transformational learning in a range of different areas. Our courses range from “Peace-building in your Community” to “Maths for Change.” Each course lasts for ten weeks, and are run run 60% in a classroom and 40% online, which gives youth the flexibility to organise their time accordingly to other obligations they might have. To date, we have enabled 170 refugee and host community youth to access Sky School learning in Kakuma camp. This project would enable Sky School and our implementation partners to expand these efforts and reach 1,000 youth in Turkana country in the next 36 mons

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The focus of this project is Turkana County, Kenya, and specifically in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei settlement. This is because there is an acute lack of provision. On average, only 23% of refugees globally have access to secondary education, but the percentage is far lower in low income areas: in in Kakuma and Kalobeyei camp, only 3% have access to any kind of post primary education.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Sky School uses powerful learning experiences to build bridges between people on the move and neighbours. We have seen that bringing these two groups together in the same space to go through a learning process can help them discover their common humanity, discover similarities with those who they would have previously thought were different to them - and importantly make friends and produce collaborations.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

At the heart of the Sky School learning model is the development of agency. We believe that the need for agency to take charge of your own life, to rebuild and empower your community is a basic need and can be developed through education. Education provides an opportunity for changes being possible, improvement achievable and independence realisable, which is something that everyone needs. Our short programmes focus on the development of agency in different areas, from “Maths to Change”, which looks at ways maths can be applied to make personal and community change, to “Narratives and Language” which focuses on developing and telling one’s own story. Education also fulfils the need for a sense of hope for the future. The process of learning enables us to continuously improve our thinking, our actions, and to understand the world around us. Education helps to create a sense of direction towards a better life - a life of agency and dignity.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We will see evidence of the development of agency among our alumni. On a personal level, we expect to see a change in mindset from seeing problems to seeing opportunities for change. We will then see this expressed through examples of alumni taking action within the community, either by establishing initiatives, businesses or going on to pursue further educational opportunities. Some may also apply to be Sky School facilitators, enabling others to access Sky School learning. We also expect to see a greater sense of cohesion between local and host community youth - this will be evidenced by connections made and collaborations on projects or initiatives following on from the courses. We will track the above through surveys before and after the courses as well as through in-depth interviews.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Through working in Kakuma Camp for nearly two years, we have seen how important educational opportunities are to the young people there. When young refugees are asked about what they lack, educational opportunities are always listed first. The demand for Sky School courses truly outstrips the supply at present - all of our courses have been 300% oversubscribed. We have seen through the examples of our alumni how agency-focused education has changed their mindsets and their lives. Furthermore, we have recently seen an increasing number of host community youth applying to our courses - our partner organisations have told us that this has often been the first time that they have worked together with the host community, so we believe that expansions of our programmes would enable increased access and understanding between refugee and host communities.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The relations between host community and refugees are complex - on the one hand, the city-like nature of the camps provide the local community with more economic opportunities as they can provide services for the NGOs that operate there. On the other hand, both refugee and host communities view each other with suspicion and their lives are conducted separately. There are few or no opportunities for host community and refugee youth to meet as the lives of refugees are mainly conducted within the confines of the camp and the two groups attend different schools. As in many other areas, there are tensions between the host community and refugee community which sometimes erupt into violence. One limiting factor for refugees is that they cannot work legally but can instead be paid a motivational stipend - in Kakuma camp a refugee and host community member might do the same job but the amount they will be paid will be vastly different.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We leverage and empower communities by working in partnership with local groups and organisations to enable access to Sky School learning. The community-based organisations that we work with have often set up their own learning centres in their communities to enable greater access to learning. We have also seen that the communities we work with understand that learning is not just for the improvement of the self but also for the community. This is partially why many Sky School students go on to be facilitators - they want to share the learning with others. The communities we work with also have the ability to mobilise support and resources. We have also seen that the communities are keen to expand access to Sky School learning - our partner URISE in has doubled in size by building a new classroom. They are also keen to include an increasing number of students from host communities and see this as important for a goal of living together peacefully in sustainable communities.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

As previously mentioned, our model is partnership-based, and we are currently working with the following partners: URISE for Africa is a community-based organisation in Kakuma Camp with the vision of empowering youth with transformative and innovative skills that they can use to serve as ambassadors of peace. Faulu Productions is a community-based organisation in Kakuma Camp which supports vulnerable refugees and empowers disadvantaged youths and women through participatory development and education. Integration and Repatriation International (IRI) is a community-based organisation in Kaloebeyei settlement which aspires to provide quality education that transforms mindsets for self-reliance and creates a peaceful environment for dialogue We would also like to develop partnerships with other community-based organisations (where possible also run by the host community).

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Sky School

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Sky School’s mission is to Sky School uses transformative education to create opportunities and inspire positive change in the lives of refugees and their communities. As well as the short programmes mentioned in this proposal, we are also developing the first high school diploma programme specifically designed for youth affected by conflict. We have extensive experience of working with displaced youth at secondary level. Previous to Sky School, Co-founders Polly and Mia worked for UWC (United World Colleges), where they worked on a scholarship programme for refugee youth to access secondary education. Refugee youth are actively involved in the creation of our curriculum, and we work in partnership with communities who are affected by conflict. We have an advisory group of Sky School alumni and other youth with experience of displacement, who we seek feedback from to ensure that our learning is informed by the lived experiences of those it serves.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United Kingdom

Organization Headquarters: City / State



Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Mia Eskelund

, indeed a great idea. But within the refugees and host community, you may agree that disabled persons are worst hit with poverty, illiteracy, destitution, lack of almost all opportunities for independent social and economic inclusion. To this extent, is there any provision in your design to accommodate the blind, deaf, dumb, lame, etc? Sure; integrating them into this model will improve its content of shared future of stability.

Photo of Mia Eskelund

Hi Uchenna - Thanks so much for your feedback. We work with our local implementation partners to make our learning spaces as accessible as possible, both for those with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or similar.

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