The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a Sharjah-based global humanitarian organisation dedicated to helping people in need worldwide, has launched a project to construct a girls’ boarding secondary school at the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement in Turkana County.

Funded by a US$1 million (Ksh111.3 million) grant from the NGO, Sharjah Charity House, the fully-equipped boarding school which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021 academic year will benefit 360 girl students, which will include refugees in the settlement as well as girls from the surrounding host community.

The project is expected to help meet the educational needs of the community’s girl children, as Kalobeyei settlement currently has only one non-boarding secondary- school for girls.

The TBHF school is expected to fulfil students’ needs to a large extent while offering a safe learning environment for refugee and host community girls facing risks such as early or forced marriage and child labour, as well as unaccompanied minors, separated children and disabled girls. The school will be fully equipped with furniture, laboratories, libraries, teachers’ offices, dormitories and washrooms.

Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of TBHF, said: “This project represents a significant step in TBHF’s efforts to provide children in refugee camps and host communities, the opportunity to learn and reach for their fullest potential. Education offers children the best pathway to a better life, and no child should be denied that opportunity regardless of their present circumstances.”

Hammadi emphasised that with the increasing influx of refugees into the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement and the Kakuma refugee camp, it was critical to ensure access to education for refugee children as well as children in the host community, in order to safeguard their and their nation’s future.

She added: “Under the guidance and inspirational leadership of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of TBHF, we seek to provide education to as many young and innocent victims of war and disaster, and enable them to look forward with hope. The inclusion of refugees in the education system requires strong partnerships and a significant investment of time and resources to support the children and youth to succeed, and we are thankful to Sharjah Charity House for their timely and generous donation that made this project. These investments will pay rich dividends for refugees, their host communities and the wider region.”

HE Sultan Al Khayyal, Secretary-General of Sharjah Charity House said: “Education is a key driving force for human and community development; and this project reaffirms the enduring value of learning and knowledge as powerful foundations of life for individuals everywhere. The project, an outcome of our collaboration with The Big Heart Foundation, marks a step forward in the provision of a safe and secure learning environment for girls who have to tackle numerous challenges in their daily lives.”

He added: “Our work is inspired by the vision of HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, to encourage meaningful investments in human capital to not only equip individuals with knowledge and skills but also nurture their creativity and imagination and to foster a lifelong love of learning. Today, Sharjah lends a helping hand to people in need everywhere, providing them with the tools crucial for the development efforts of their countries. We believe there is an urgent need for institutions of learning as education has the capability to transform the lives of both individuals and communities.”

The project which will result in 360 girls being enrolled in secondary school, is expected to boost gross enrolment numbers.

At present, nearly half of school-aged children are out of school in the Turkana County region, where the settlement is located. Girl students constitute only 24.5 per cent of the overall enrolment.

While there are 26 primary schools in the region, only seven secondary schools are available in Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei Settlement, supporting learning for 13,000 students. One of the secondary schools is a girl’s boarding school situated in Kakuma.

The Kalobeyei Settlement has only one non-boarding school for girls. In 2019, over 400 girls applied for a place at this school but only 90 could be accommodated due to space constraints.

Demand is projected to grow rapidly in 2020 and beyond.

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