Project Kakuma: Educating refugees via Skype

Our guest blogger today is Koen Timmers, a Microsoft Expert Educator Fellow from Belgium who is currently teaming up with teachers across the globe to help educate African refugees through an organization known as Project Kakuma. With the help of Skype they teach students in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

In April 2015 a dozen global educators had a Skype call with refugees in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The camp houses 179,000 refugees and 55% are children. It has 30 schools, each containing 20 classrooms. We set up a project in which teachers from around the world would teach the Kakuma students using Skype.

During a second call, I taught a group of 10 Kakuma teachers how to install and use Skype. We soon discovered that the schools had very little resources: textbooks were only available at a ratio of 1:10; there were no computers and no power supply. An outreach assistant brought his computer to the class he was teaching and 150 students looked onto the small screen. This made me decide to send them my own laptop with the help of a colleague educator who brought it to the camp himself.

Kakuma students on a Skype video call

I created a website for Project Kakuma set up with crowd funding, as well as a game called “Jump to Kakuma” which is available on Windows 8, 10 and iOS. All returns from the game are invested in textbooks and devices for the camp. Two months ago I had enough funding to send a laptop, a projector and a sound system.

We are now conducting classes every week through three to five Skype calls. During the calls a global teacher teaches science, math, art, etc. to the student refugees. These past two months the students have had lessons taught by teachers from the USA, Brazil, New Zealand, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, India, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and many other countries.

During our 2-day Skype-a-Thon back in December, we managed to connect with Kakuma from all over the world. Our 24 Skype calls resulted in an astonishing 137,833 virtual miles—the equivalent of 5 times the circumference of the earth. Check out our Sway presentation to find out more.

Calling Kakuma during the Skype-a-Thon

Some fun facts about Project Kakuma:

  • Mette, a Danish teacher, lets two of her students teach the Kakuma students from time to time.
  • The project was broadcasted by the Portuguese television and published in Belgian, Portuguese and Danish newspapers.
  • Joao, a Portuguese teacher, invited a local band to play during a Skype session while he taught the students about art. He builds apps and is currently working on a game called “Water Heroes” of which all returns will go to refugee camps to build water wells.
  • Those who aren’t able to conduct live calls with Kakuma due to time zone issues record Skype video messages.
  • Vineeta, an Indian teacher, taught the Kakuma students how to create robot cars and sent some to the refugees.

Why is it so important to do all we can to educate these students? The Kakuma refugees are not able to leave the camp. Through Skype calls, we are unlocking their world. We show that we care and increase their level of education, which then leads to greater chances of a new life away from the camp.

We are currently serving five schools with the help of three outreach assistants. The schools are able to host one call each day until April 2016. If you are an educator and you or your classroom would like to have a call with them, you can schedule it on the Microsoft Educator Community.

This project was created through the collaboration of motivated teachers from all over the world. Without the hard work of Kelli (US), Lena (Denmark), Paula (Finland), Koen (Belgium), Joao (Portugal), Kurt (Austria), Ovi (Spain), and many others, there would be no Project Kakuma.

To learn more about Project Kakuma and how you can get involved check out their Skype lesson or visit ProjectKakuma.com. Do you have an inspiring Skype story of your own? We’d love to hear it. Share it on Twitter or Instagram with #SkypeTogether.