Listening in Dadaab

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What does it take to launch an effective program in a resource-poor region of the world? Although we at OLE believe there are no “silver bullet” answers to this question, our research and experience demonstrate it is vital to listen to the people you’re seeking to serve. They know their culture. They know their needs. And they know what changes they’d like to see in their community. As we at OLE prepare to implement our newest initiative, the Community Learning Centres (CLC) Program in the UNHCR refugee camps of Dadaab, Kenya, we strive to listen to the people.

In October 2013, I spent time in Dadaab doing just that, listening. Along with OLE’s CEO, Dr. Richard Rowe, I met with OLE’s new local staff (six Somali refugees), elected leaders, heads of schools, religious leaders, teachers, representatives of local educational organizations, and UNHCR management. After nearly a week in Dadaab, and days replete with lively discussion, learning priorities were identified by community leaders and paths forward were forged.

In an effort to capture measurable data on these priorities, and further reinforce the discussions we had in person, we determined it was important to conduct a community needs survey. When I left Dadaab, OLE’s new staff continued full-speed-ahead at the local level, recruiting 30 refugees to administer such a survey to our program’s focus population: youth.  By January 2014, 1,500 refugees had been asked for their input regarding this new initiative. Drawing from the results of this survey, OLE will be in a position to further develop relevant program offerings and expand availability of OERs aligned with the needs and interests of refugee populations in Dadaab.

Throughout this preparatory work, we are striving to instill a large sense of agency among community members. Feedback from a team member in Dadaab – “We also appreciate the way you considered the community needs” – demonstrates we are indeed on the right path.  But our work is nowhere near finished.  In the months to come, as the Community Learning Centers begin opening their doors to community members eager to access diverse learning opportunities provided by this Program, it is important that we not to lose sight of what transformational change can come from simply asking the community what their greatest challenges are and what we can do to help.