The Limits to Universal Education: Barriers to Enrolment for Urban Refugees in Kampala (December 2015)

With over 45,000 refugees registered in Kampala, it can be extremely difficult staying up to date with the education needs of the thousands of urban refugee children scattered across the city. To help us better serve the refugee community in Kampala, Xavier Project undertook an assessment to look at how many refugee children are enrolled and what barriers they face in accessing a quality education. With information gathered from surveys and focus groups, we have published our findings in our newest report, titled “The Limits to Universal Education: Barriers to Enrolment for Urban Refugees in Kampala”.

After surveying over 300 families and over 1,000 children, our findings showed that finances continue to be the greatest barrier to refugee families sending their children to school. Only 35% of primary-aged children are enrolled and secondary school enrolment is even lower at only 19%. With an average income of $82 a month, the cost of sending multiple children to school while paying rent and feeding the family is often times impossible.

Our assessment has made it clear how critical Xavier Project’s work is in Kampala and how much more work we have to do.

Click on the following link for the full report:

The Limits to Universal Education: Barriers to Enrolment for Urban Refugees in Kampala


Annual Report 2014

In 2014 Xavier Project continued to provide opportunities for urban refugees living in Kampala and Nairobi and education activities formed the core part of our interventions. Obtaining access to good quality relevant education delivered in a safe environment has become easier for the refugees we work with, yet for the majority of refugees in East Africa this is not the case. In both

Kampala and Nairobi school fees and the lack of free schooling at any age remains the biggest barrier to access. Other barriers, such as the lack of necessary language skills, bullying by teachers and pupils are also preventing refugee children and adults from accessing education. However, fear of arrest became an especially alarming barrier in Nairobi. In March 2014, the government of Kenya issued a directive that all refugees residing in urban areas should relocate to camps. Through this directive, many refugees were rounded up and taken to Kasarani Stadium, which was gazetted as a police station.  During this period, which lasted just over a month, at least 300 children were separated from their parents and others had their education terminated.  Subsequently, children feared going to school in case they get caught up in this government directive.   Students in colleges and universities were also targeted by this directive, with many of them forced to relocate to the camps.


Throughout 2014 Xavier Project worked to reduce the barriers to access and improve the quality of education in schools. These became the objectives of all three departments; Education, Tamuka and Kasirye. Our programmes developed in response to the lack of improvement in the situation in Uganda and the increasingly hostile environment for refugees in Kenya. Starting with the education department, the most significant activity in improving access was the school sponsorship programme which increased to 108 students. This included 64 primary school students in Kampala, 36 secondary students (ten in Uganda and 26 in Kenya) and eight recent high school leavers whom we sponsored through vocational training courses. This was an increase from the total number in 2013 of 64 students. Under the sponsorship programme we initiated a ‘house’ system, which among other things allocated each Xavier Project staff member to a group of four to eight students whom they would visit at home twice per year and take care of pastoral issues faced by the students. All students were also able to attend at least two weeks of extra-curricular activities where they spent time with their staff mentors or the education directors. In Uganda, primary school students not visited by staff mentored were visited by volunteers.

The English course held in Kampala had an increased enrolment of 100 students up from 60 in 2013. This course helps children to access primary school as without English they fail the entry tests or are put in a very low class. We selected 29 of the students from the 2013-2014 course to join our sponsorship programme and they were able to gain entry to a suitable class group because of their newly acquired English skills.

In Kenya, the activities that focused on access were the female empowerment sessions and the school visitation programme. The female empowerment programme encourages young girls not to drop out of school through community led discussions and their mothers are invited to share their thoughts on the roles of women in their new communities in comparison to their countries of origin. The school visitation programme works with teachers in Kenyan public primary schools during five weekly sessions on the challenges faced by refugees in school. This was run as a pilot programme which we are looking forward to expanding in 2015. At the two schools we visited refugees benefitted from greater access as the 50 teachers who completed the courses became more sensitive to the barriers preventing them from coming to school. This activity also focused on quality and the teachers on the courses were very open to discussing various aspects of pedagogy that went beyond the realm of refugee issues.

We were also excited to pilot the partnership between Xavier Project and Eneza Education. Eneza enables children to access the SMS quizzes which are based on the Kenyan Primary School Curriculum. Although not an adequate alternative to formal education, Eneza Education enables anyone with access to a mobile phone to continue learning and design their own education around relevant subjects, even when they cannot go to school. Unlimited access costs 40 KSH per week per phone and we paid for the service for 50 children who are now using it actively. In 2015 we will increase this to 400 children, many of whom will be out of school. Eneza Education gives partners an online user interface which enables them to monitor in close detail the number of children using the SMS platform, the number of quizzes taken, and to analyse the achievement and progress of the children at every level. This will help inform the schools as to which class a refugee child should join when other barriers to access have been resolved.

“Eneza Education enables anyone with access to a mobile phone to continue learning and design their own education around relevant subjects, even when they cannot go to school.”

To address the quality of education received by refugees we continued with the mobile library in Kampala and increased the number of schools visited to five – one school every morning. We hired an extra member of staff so that we had two full time reading assistants who read with refugee and Ugandan children in groups of three to six at a time. We were excited to launch the new library in Kampala in December which will enable our sponsor students and others to read after school. The library will offer students a safe and conducive environment for learning and with staff direction they will be able to enjoy reading and learning. In Kampala, Xavier Project took up the chair position of a new education focused working group involving UNHCR and other agencies working in education with refugees. We continued to advocate for greater collaboration between stakeholders so that the quality of services delivered would be improved. We remained the chair members of the Refugee Grass-Roots Network and active members of the Forum for Education NGO’s in Uganda (FENU) In Kenya, the extra-curricular camps covered areas of education not available to students in school and help identify and nurture the talents of our students that go beyond the academic. Similar camps were held in Uganda with more of a recreational focus since most of our students there are young.


The Tamuka department realigned its focus on education in 2014 based on feedback from the refugee community. Tamuka continued to spread education, knowledge and awareness to refugees of all ages through the courses held in the hubs, the newsletter, the Tamuka website and the SMS system. Over 200 refugees graduated from courses held in the Kampala Tamuka Hub, which included social media training, Office and basic ICT and a more advanced web design course. This is rightly seen as formal training by refugees and we know of four cases of refugees who have gained formal employment as a result of the qualifications they have gained through our courses. Others have reported that they have been able to improve the viability and success of their small informal businesses as a result of their new skills. Aside from providing access to education for refugees, the hubs provide a safe environment for refugees to meet and socialise, incubate small businesses, communicate with their friends abroad for free and enjoy learning on-line and through our off-line resource database. We were very happy to be able to open the new hub in Kawangware in Nairobi after years of planning. The hub currently holds 24 computers and courses and events will begin in January 2015.

“4 cases of refugees who have gained formal employment as a result of the qualifications they have gained through our courses.”

The newsletter was being read every month by up to 17,600 people in both Kampala and Nairobi and over 80% of respondents in a recent survey who read it said they found it helpful and informative. Apart from including news that is specifically relevant to urban refugees, the Tamuka Newsletter also raises awareness about local opportunities that are available to refugees and in most cases do not incur a cost. All articles from the newsletter were printed on line at and this website, which was renovated in 2014, has become the on-line focus for all issues pertaining to refugees in East Africa. All agencies that work with refugees including UNHCR have a tab on which they can post messages and notices and the website features news from other refugee run news outlets from Kakuma and Dadaab camps and from Uganda. The SMS platform is integrated with the website, so any refugees sending a free SMS to our short-code has their message posted on the website. The SMS platform has also been used to disperse information and we have over 1000 numbers on our database to which we can send informative text messages. During the chaos after the government directive, the Tamuka website was used to launch an advocacy campaign involving Amnesty international and UNHCR. An advocacy group was founded as a working group of UNHCR and Xavier Project holds the secretary position for the group.


The Kasirye department had a productive and revealing year. At the start of the year we were looking for funding to expand the business services and consulting model but we were unsuccessful. Meanwhile we learnt a lot about the way refugee businesses work and what services they would like from us. The best solution came out of a partnership we started with Kiva give interest free loans through the mobile money service called Mpesa and they rely on ‘trustees’ who advocate for the viability of the loans. In March we qualified as trustees and have since been able to support 12 refugee businesses with loans, totalling over £3000 in money lent and repaid. Our Kiva borrowers have been able to grow their businesses and generate income that can be used on school fees and health care for their children. In 2015 we will continue with the Kiva partnership and re-endorse loans for the current 12 businesses. However, Kasirye will close as a department of Xavier Project and the director of Kasirye, who was the only full time staff member in the programme, is becoming the Xavier Project finance director.

At the Xavier Project conference held in Namanga in February 2014, all staff members spent three days planning the year and contemplating the impact and potential impact of our work. We settled on two themes that would run throughout the year, namely, ‘connecting with refugees’, and ‘programme integration’. The first theme was chosen so that all staff members could become even more actively involved in the refugee communities in Kampala and Nairobi and thus understand the needs and ambitions of the groups we are working with. Examples included the ‘house’ system or staff/student mentoring scheme, setting up a panel of refugee and community leaders to assist in selection of students in Uganda, setting up a management committee of refugees for the Tamuka hubs, building relationships with refugee journalists and refugee leaders in different districts of Nairobi, and running on-site training in various communities around the city. ‘Programme integration’ was a theme chosen to make sure that we were not doubling efforts in our separate departments and that each department had the Xavier Project mission at the core of all activities. In the end this theme was particularly successful because we integrated all our programmes under the banner of education. Specific examples of cross-overs include the roll out of the Eneza partnership which is being done jointly between Tamuka and the Education department, and the enrolment of our sponsor students in Tamuka courses. We used the newsletter and website to widely publicise formal education opportunities and distributed the newsletters through parents of our students.

In November 2014 we discovered that we had succeeded in our application to become UNHCR partners for education in urban areas in Nairobi. This was supposed to be for 2015 but they managed to disburse some funds into our account before December 31st to pay for some school fees in advance. This new contract has prompted us to hire five new staff members in Nairobi including a new chief operations officer, and in Uganda we have hired four new members of staff to plan for and execute the current expansion we have planned there.

The work we were able to achieve in 2014 was made possible by the generosity of numerous individual donors and grant making organisations. We now have 28 donors who are making regular donations and we received over £13,000 from individuals making one off donations. We also received grants or donations in kind from Charles Russell, PwC, SalesForce, SPICMA, Avonbrook Projects Abroad, Vanessa Arbuthnott Fabrics, Human Dynamics, Smith and Williamson, the Living by Giving Trust, the Eleanor Rathbone Trust, Babbel and the Imani Trust. We had numerous fundraising activities which contributed to £51,000 from this revenue source, including the Fairford Airshow Park and View, Concord College Fundraiser and St Andrews Bongo Ball.

We are very thankful for this support and go into 2015 feeling confident and full of optimism for the year ahead.