As the day begins in the sprawling Kalobeyei Integrated Refugee Settlement in northwest Kenya, a chorus of voices can be heard singing. From where we are standing in Kalobeyei Village 1, the song grows in volume as the chorus, belonging to children from the settlement households and their teachers, approaches their destination, the Furaha Child-Friendly Center. The "Morning Train" is arriving!
Refugee children start each day by joining the "Morning Train" procession to school
What is the "Morning Train"? Every day, teachers from the Furaha Center, which is supported by UNICEF Kenya and operated by the Waldorf Kakuma Project, visit each household, picking up young children one by one, to start their day of early childhood development (ECD) activities with positive energy and momentum, and to make sure that no one is left behind. Teachers at the Furaha Center focus on education and play grounded in the arts (including painting, singing, drama and beading) as a means of helping refugee children process trauma and build foundations for lifelong learning.
Education and play grounded in the arts build foundations for lifelong learning
The "Morning Train" demonstrates the power of partnership to deliver hope and opportunity amidst hardship and uncertainty. Providing this safe and happy space for children who have experienced the trauma of displacement, conflict and poverty would not be possible without the dedicated support of partners like LDS Charities.
UNICEF staff and representatives from LDS Charities recently visited Kalobeyei and Kakuma Refugee Camp, home to 190,000 refugees from 19 countries, including South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda — over 80 percent of them women and children. The majority of new arrivals are from South Sudan: Kenya is currently hosting more than 95,000 South Sudanese refugees. UNICEF works with partners to provide vital services like safe water and sanitation, nutrition, health, education, psychosocial support, immunization and more.
UNICEF and LDS Charities work together to train teachers and empower parents and community members
Our visit focused primarily on ECD and education. Kenya has struggled to accomodate the needs of the growing refugee population, but thanks to the support of LDS Charities, UNICEF has been able to increase the number of facilities, trained teachers and caregivers and provide educational materials for learning and play, while empowering parents and community members to invest in the positive and healthy growth of their children from the earliest years.
"The majority of children arriving in Kakuma have experienced the unspeakable," says LDS Charities Program Specialist Kristi Haycock. "To witness the safe environment of the Furaha Center, where children are enjoying fun, creative healing activities with the support of caring, knowledgeable teachers, I felt hopeful — hopeful that precious lives would be protected and nurtured. I'm grateful LDS Charities can provide support to these essential ECD services.
"While I watched the "Morning Train" children gather in a large circle around their teacher to begin their morning, I noticed a little boy — 3 or 4 years old — on the periphery of the group. He couldn't see well over his taller classmates, and he turned his gaze on me. I moved closer and kneeled, extending my hand. He grasped my fingers," Haycock recalls. "Eventually, he began to mimic my body movements, so I followed the teacher as he led the group in song and dance. My friend soon engaged with the group and I faded into the background, encouraged that there was a safe place for a young boy to go where he would be noticed, taught and cared for. Now the work begins to ensure that every refugee child has the same opportunity."
The "Morning Train" is just one of many glimmers of hope as UNICEF and LDS Charities forge ahead in partnership to create spaces for protection, education and growth, building foundations for children that will allow them to reach their full potential despite having faced unimaginable adversity.
The Future Primary School, the only school facility in Kalobeyei Village 3, contains classrooms for primary school and ECD programs. Before the facility was completed, young children had to walk more than half a mile to attend other, overcrowded schools. This is progress, but more spaces are needed. There are more than 3,000 learners using the space, including more than 880 children in the ECD program — more than 200 children per classroom!
To ease overcrowding, LDS Charities is building more classrooms
This is changing, thanks to the support of LDS Charities, which is funding the construction of two new classrooms equipped with learning materials that will serve 60 students each at the Future Primary School. Expanding ECD services is vital to help vulnerable refugee children develop and cope with what they've experienced.
Construction is not just about the children: it's a community empowerment measure, too. The stones for the foundation are sourced and sold by local community members, and the construction of the facilities is an employment opportunity for refugees living in the settlement.