12 Apr 2022 - by A4ID

Establishing the World’s First Free of Cost International School for Refugee Children in Kenya

In September 2020, A4ID was contacted by its development partner Still I Rise, to assist in brokering pro bono legal advice to support the establishment of the international school. A4ID evaluated the project and its requirements, bringing in Jackson Kamenju of Njoroge Regeru & Co in Kenya.

In one of the most disadvantaged areas of Kenya, Still I Rise, an independent organisation offering education and protection to vulnerable and refugee children, set out to build and operate an International School offering the IB curriculum, which predominantly focused on supporting refugee children living in the Mathare informal settlement. The school is the first in the world to offer the prestigious IB curriculum, free of charge, to the most vulnerable children.  

The Situation On The Ground

Kenya is home to refugees from several countries, including Somalia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These refugees are often fleeing persecution, war, and famine, and find themselves relocated to several large refugee camp facilities across Kenya.  

The country started receiving an influx of refugees in 1992, following the onset of the Somali Civil War, during which over 164,000 refugees were relocated to the Dadaab in the east of the country. The total population of Kenya’s refugee camps are now estimated to be around 223,430, with the Kenyan government demanding a UN resolution to close the camps and return the refugees back to their homelands. Access to health care, nutrition, and education are day-to-day problems, whilst security concerns for vulnerable women and children are prevalent.  

Almost 500 kilometres away lies Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Refugees from Dadaab often take grave risks by making the journey across the desert to reach the capital in search of a better life. On foot, such a journey involves walking eight hours a day for 12 days. Once they arrive, they often end up in informal settlements, like Mathare. Mathare is situated in the northeast of the city, has a population of approximately 600,000 people. Here families live in 6ft x 8ft shanties made of old tin and mud. There are no beds, no electricity, and no running water.  There are public toilets shared by up to 100 people, and residents must pay to use them. Most people live on an income of less than US$1 per day, with crime, disease and illness common, and an estimated one in three adults testing as HIV positive.

A New Hope

After witnessing the desperation on the ground, Still I Rise decided to establish an International School in the heart of Mathare. Still I Rise is an Italian non-profit organisation whose mission is to provide world-class education to destitute, refugee children around the world by establishing international schools offering a high-quality international education at no cost to refugee and vulnerable Kenyan children alike. 

The hope was that, within two years, the school would be built and refitted, with the first-year group of children receiving a full, IB-level education. The logistical and legal challenges were immense – not to mention general requirements such as electricity, food, and water supply. 

With a possible site chosen, and the necessary funds raised, Still I Rise set to work enlisting a local law firm for assistance in navigating the legal requirements for a school to be authorised. This proved much trickier than expected, leading Still I Rise to approach A4ID for assistance.

Much Needed Legal Assistance

Still I Rise needed assistance in undertaking the legal research on requirements to open the school in Kenya, and on preparing and submitting the application to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Crucially, this advice needed to consider the differences between the law spelt out in the Kenyan Education Act, and how things actually work on the ground.  

A4ID brokered the project, bringing in Jackson Kamenju of Njoroge Regeru & Co in Kenya to work alongside Still I Rise. From then on, the project went from strength to strength – with incredible results. Jackson brought the necessary insight into how the legal framework was applied in practice, with knowledge of the internal workings of city hall, and how it interacted with the ministry of education and the construction department.  

Jackson laid out a checklist that was much more expansive than originally set out in the legal framework, but which was necessary to ensure the school was successfully built and operated. In Kenya, 60% of schools are not registered for this very reason, and none of them could be awarded the IB curriculum due to a lack of official authorisation. This means that, in the end, the work executed by Jackson and Njoroge Regeru & Co was essential to the school’s creation.  

Giovanni Volpe, the Operations Manager at Still I Rise, said that his experience with A4ID “couldn’t have been done better”. He also added that Njoroge Regeru & Co “really tooour cause to heart.”  Rating their service as “excellent”, Giovanni specifically complemented Njoroge Regeru & Co’s practical application of the law stating that “…in Kenya you have a legal framework and then you have what actually happens. We needed [and were provided with] field insight about the framework and how it is applied in practice.” 

The school has also helped the community’s access to electricity, with initially half the students coming from households within in informal settlements without any access to electricity. The school has helped to turn this around by offering small portable electrical batteries charged with solar panels to all student households in Mathare. Still I Rise have therefore encouraged a holistic view to impact development, and the results are clear to see.

The Impact On Local Community

The Still I Rise International School in Nairobi is now officially included in the International Baccalaureate system as an IB Candidate School. It is the first refugee school in the world to offer a high-level pathway to vulnerable and refugee students, completely free of charge.  
At full capacity, the school will offer the IB curriculum to approximately 280 students per year. There are currently 134 students enrolled: 49% are Kenyan nationals and 51% are refugees. Importantly, they all come from impoverished backgrounds and reside in Mathare.

SDG 4: Quality Education

The establishment of the International Baccalaureate candidate school in Kenya contributes substantially to Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education), specifically Target 4.1: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.” Moreover, the school will help to reduce inequalities among displaced and disadvantaged families (SDG 10), and eventually help towards the goal of No Poverty (SDG 1).   

This case study is an excellent example of how the support of the legal community can accelerate or magnify the impact of specific SDG targets. Quality Education is central to human development, as well as being instrumental to poverty reduction. 

The establishment of such a school could not come at a better time. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling has been described by the UN as a “generational catastrophe.” Still I Rise is looking to build and run similar International Schools offering the IB curriculum in other jurisdictions facing refugee and humanitarian crises. To this end, and with A4ID’s support, Still I Rise is receiving further pro bono support from White & Case in Turkey to establish another school for refugees in Gaziantep. This school is intended to cater its services to destitute refugee children, mostly refugees from Syria. 

If you are a member of a law firm, corporate legal department, judiciary or barrister’s chambers then please note that you can partner with A4ID to provide pro bono legal services to governmental and non-governmental organisations dedicated to achieving  the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Please contact us via our website to learn more.

You can download our Legal Guide to SDG 4 here: https://www.a4id.org/sdgs/sdg-4-quality-education/  

Thanks to A4ID volunteer Geoffrey Thomas for drafting this case study.