Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

York University BHER Spring 2018 graduates and brothers Jackson Kimonyo, left, and Etienne Kimonyo, far right, pose at their graduation celebration with Etienne’s wife, left, and their teaching assistant Hawa Sabriye, who is holding Etienne’s daughter.

York University

With his wife in hospital and five children to care for, Okello Mark Oyat was not sure he could finish an assignment for his long-distance geography degree at York University. But Mr. Oyat, a resident of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, persevered and uploaded the paper, omitting only a final edit.

Two years later, his wife is back at home, and Mr. Oyat and 30 other refugees in Dadaab are receiving bachelor’s degrees through York’s Borderless Higher Education program (BHER).

“I am trying very hard to make sure that my children go to school,” Mr. Oyat said in a Skype interview. “They should not suffer the way I did, not live in sequestration the way I did.”

Story continues below advertisement

A Ugandan who arrived in one of the world’s oldest refugee camps in his 20s, Mr. Oyat has been in Dadaab for almost three decades. Long-term displacements from one’s home country can lead to acute poverty, depression and hopelessness, research has found. With about 10 per cent of the world’s 65 million refugees − and about four million Palestinians − living in such persistent crises, finding ways to improve their futures is crucial.

Higher education can offer a way out. This year’s graduates say they now want to teach others and are thinking about how to rebuild their home countries, when it is safe to return.

From left: Okello Mark Oyat (grey suit), Abdikadir Abikar (checked shirt), Abdullahi Yusuf and Ochan Lemoi are pictured at the York University Dadaab campus.

York University

“When we began, we talked about improving the quality of primary and secondary education, so people would not load their families in a boat to take that trip across the Mediterranean,” said Don Dippo, an education professor at York University, and one of the BHER co-ordinators. “Now we see ourselves actively involved in supporting this emerging next generation of leaders.”

Equipped with new skills – including fluent English − the students are also less dependent on foreign aid and can take jobs inside and outside Dadaab.

“My classes are growing,” said Abdikadir Abikar, 30, another program graduate who teaches information and communications technologies to high-schoolers. “In the camp, there are a lot of job opportunities: The students can be employed as a data collector, they can do office work for an NGO as support staff, they can work in a shop typing, scanning, dealing with documents,” he said

Sahra Mohamed Ismail successfully graduates this spring.

York University

Mr. Abikar has lived in Dadaab since he was 11. This fall, he will begin an MA in education through the same program; he is one of seven graduates, including Mr. Oyat, who asked York to let them continue studying. (The university is covering tuition and fees.)

With an MA, they will be able to teach undergraduates in the camp and eventually partially run the entire program – making it self-sustaining. Mr. Abikar is planning to return to Somalia and start up classroom technology initiatives.

Story continues below advertisement

About 400 students have enrolled in BHER since it began in 2013. Half have earned degrees or will do so by next spring.

York instructors visit the camp for extended periods to help them with assignments, but the students primarily rely on each other – and their Canadian classmates who are taking the same courses. Using WhatsApp and GoogleDocs, the entire class works on group projects.

“We told [all the students], your success is not based on leaving your classmates behind. In fact, it is the opposite: It is ‘No one left behind,’” Mr. Dippo said. “I think this has helped them to succeed even though there are limits to the supports we can give them.”

For women, being able to study in the camp means they can still be close to their families.

“I studied from 9 to 11 p.m.,” said Fatima Jama, 24, who also hopes Somalia will be safe enough to go home to in a few years. “I used to find time to study at night when I finished my domestic chores.”

Ochan Leomoi celebrates his success at the informal graduation ceremony organized in April during York Faculty of Education Professor Don Dippo's visit to meet the graduating class of spring 2018.

York University

While the program is changing the opportunities of some of the world’s most isolated citizens, the situation in the camp is difficult. A quarter-million people live in the various sections of Dadaab, half of what the population was at its peak. But food rations and cash assistance from international agencies are regularly cut to cope with demands from other crises, including Syria, and the Kenyan government has periodically threatened to close the camp.

Story continues below advertisement

Still, at a graduation celebration held in Dadaab for this year’s cohort, the mood was optimistic. The students imagined a peaceful Somalia without the regular bombings of civilian and government targets that al-Shabaab militants have inflicted in the past year.

“Our Somalian students said the Mogadishu they will return to is one where Ugandans, and Ethiopians and Eritreans can all go,” Mr. Dippo said. “And even Canadians, they told me − which is a joke because I am identified as a high-value target, so my mobility is limited.

“They said ‘We are going to build a Mogadishu where we can all drink camel’s milk in a café.’”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies