Elimisha Kakuma: Higher Education for Refugees

Update:  We are so grateful to everyone who has donated to get us to this point!  As we have begun recruitment and orientation, we are realizing there are additional costs, including a decision to include lunches for students in a setting where most go without lunch.  Further, after a competitive application process with over 100 applicants, we are moving forward with  13 students rather than the initial 10 that we planned on.  All these and other unforeseen costs have pushed us to update our goal, and we hope the global community will respond! Thank you!  

Elimisha Kakuma is a pilot program that will provide access to higher education opportunities for high school graduates in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Students will receive intensive academic instruction, SAT and TOEFL preparation, mentorship with current college students, and guidance through the college application process. As more refugees gain access to higher education, their long-term life outcomes will be improved and their communities will be strengthened.  

The Problem

Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp was established in 1992 with the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” who were fleeing civil war. What was meant to be a temporary refuge has become a permanent settlement of over 160,000 refugees.  In Kakuma, education offers children an escape from a difficult reality.  But more importantly, a decent education creates a pathway to opportunities for children and their families.  However, as students get older, access to higher education becomes all but unattainable.  According to a 2017 UNHCR Report, only three percent of refugees worldwide, and only one percent of refugees in East Africa, make it to college or university.

Children face numerous obstacles when pursuing education, including poverty and harsh weather conditions; a lack of trained teachers, textbooks, and materials; and a lack of basic needs such as food and water. In addition to those challenges, girls must clean, cook, wash, collect water, and take care of younger family members all while facing social and family pressure to marry young and/or drop out of school.  Those who manage to overcome these obstacles and finish secondary school face a dead end, without access to higher education, despite having the talent. While some organizations offer support, many high-achieving students in Kakuma lack the technology, money, and information necessary to access college.

Elimisha Kakuma bridges this gap.

Our Plan

Elimisha Kakuma (“Educate Kakuma” in Swahili) is an intensive university-preparatory program designed to provide opportunities for high school graduates in Kakuma Refugee Camp. The program will help students prepare for university-level content and apply for university scholarships, thereby making higher education accessible. Founded by Kakuma's own, Elimisha believes that when students are provided with access to higher education, they are more likely to create a larger impact by empowering families and changing communities for the better. 

Elimisha Kakuma will help students prepare for university-level content in English by using a blended method targeting proficiency in the four language domains (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and later, TOEFL and SAT preparation. Students will study in both a virtual setting, with online assignments and classes, and an on-site setting where they will work together under the guidance of an on-the-ground facilitator who will provide technical and logistical support.  Students will have access to a one-on-one mentorship network between our beneficiaries and current university students, including three of our co-founders who have lived in Kakuma. 

What We Need From You

Elimisha Kakuma plans to launch a pilot program in May 2021 that will support ten students. This pilot will enable Elimisha to test our college readiness approach, while also providing much-needed resources and opportunities to a group of highly talented students. Within twenty-four hours of launching its first application, Elimisha Kakuma received over forty applicants.  The demand for this program is growing, but it currently outpaces our ability to provide these essential services. 

Without your help, this pilot will not be able to get off the ground.  

Our team of four experienced educators need $10,000 to launch this pilot program.  With this money, we will be able to provide

-Laptops and headsets for each student in our pilot cohort and our on-the-ground facilitator
-A stipend for our facilitator
-Electricity costs for students to charge their laptops
-The cost of registering each student to take the SAT and TOEFL up to two times
-Stipends for the scholars which will allow them to focus on academics instead of working multiple jobs to support themselves and their family 

As one of our co-founders Mary Maker said in her TED Talk  that was viewed over a million times, “for the child of war, an education can turn their tears of loss into a passion for peace.”  Education creates peace. Help us further this passion for peace by supporting this community of young people who simply need an opportunity to access higher education.  They are the key to strengthening their communities, rebuilding their countries, and improving this world.


Mary Maker: Mary is a rising Junior at St Olaf College, majoring in Theater. Before she delivered her popular TED Talk, Mary studied and taught primary school in Kakuma. She now works with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to build and run educational programs for young women in the camp.

Diing Manyang: Diing is a rising Senior at George Washington University, majoring in Systems Engineering with a concentration in Data Analytics and a minor in Economics. Diing studied and taught primary and secondary school in Kakuma, and runs Me4Her, an award-winning program that seeks to empower young women through mentorship in Kakuma.

Joseph Dudi Miabok: Dudi is a rising senior at Harvard University, majoring in History and Science, with a minor in Computer Science. Dudi grew up in Kakuma where he studied and taught primary and secondary school. This summer, he will be running  a project that seeks to introduce computer programming to 9th and 10th graders.

Deirdre Hand: Deirdre is an educator with a Master's in Education, Curriculum, and Instruction, with a concentration in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Deirdre has more than 12 years of experience teaching English across five continents, notably in Kakuma, Indonesia, Rwanda, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, and the United States.

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Deirdre Hand 
Washington D.C., DC