Late Thursday night, groggy and stiff from travel, I met RET’s driver who took me to the hotel in Nairobi where I’m staying for the weekend. I’ve worked with RET before so much of the drive at 11:00pm involved him catching me up on the comings and goings of the team. RET is an international non-governmental organizations that specifically works to provide education and meet educational needs “of young people made vulnerable by displacement, violence, armed conflict and disaster.”
In this project, I wear two hats as a visiting researcher, part project evaluator and part external researcher. Today in the small RET office in Nairobi, I sit with the project manager, Regina, and move through my Terms of Reference as the evaluator. Then we discussed the pre-dissertation research I am pursuing with the support of the Student Media Grant from the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University. My research involves understanding power in training that intends to empower women learners in the Diaspora, particularly refugee populations. I’m focusing on Somali refugees in Kenya as they are a unique and large Diaspora, the majority of whom are located in the five sprawling refugee camps around Dadaab. Through work in Dadaab in June – August 2014, I learned that almost every educational project intends to empower learners. As an adult educator, I’m left to interrogate, what do we mean when we empower? How does a training program that is outside of traditional formal education empower? And what does this mean for Somali women who are refugees?
Using photography and video, I document the training and ask learners to document their own understanding of power and empowerment in their lives. I hand out cameras at the beginning of the training and collect them a few days after the training, when I conduct interviews with learners about the photos and their experience in the training.
RET is planning a training the day I arrive in Dadaab on youth advocacy around Sexual and Gender Based Violence, a type of “training of trainers” program. This is a great opportunity for me to conduct the visual ethnographic research of empowerment for women learners.
While running errands and working all day Friday I felt particularly happy to see a marching band celebrating with volunteer raising awareness of public health concerns. It’s good to be back in Kenya.
Why Training for Adults? Refugee’s Systems and Support for Empowerment
As I began to discuss in my introduction post, I am using visual methodologies to understand empowerment in diverse adult education classrooms in Dadaab. The content of the training has thus far in the pre-dissertation process, been diverse. Last year, I spent two months in Dadaab and attended in-service teacher training for teachers working with over-age or out of school learners. I also attended training for parents of children with disabilities who were beginning to send their children to school. I sat in on training for program staff who were learning about gendered components of livelihoods programs (usually small income generating activities done in the camps). This year, with the support of the Student Media Grant and the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M, I’ve attended training related to Sexual and Gender Based Violence for youth community workers. I will identify additional training with the support of local partners and hope to observe and use visual methods to document and collect data from at least three trainings.
But why focus on training for adults? And why focus on empowerment? First, adults in the camps around Dadaab have often missed out on formal education, lack literacy skills, or lack other skills that could support their futures both within the camps and beyond. The camp setting in Dadaab is restrictive, with a new curfew imposed after the Garissa University attack and a lack of freedom of movement for refugees in the camps. Employment is severely restricted as well, leading to increases in informal economy such as small businesses, entrepreneurial activities, and the potential of online work for refugees with the requisite skills. Thus, training for adults is extremely prevalent as a solution to the lack of skills and educational access, in the hopes of preparing refugees for life outside the camps.
Empowerment is a typical focus of training. In fact, last summer, in a conversation over dinner at the canteen on the compound, one NGO worker told me that all training intends to empower the learners in Dadaab. Since that time, through my participation in trainings on such diverse topics and discussion with trainers, empowerment has been dissected and reapplied. Most interestingly for me, the diversity of the trainings I attend allows me to think about empowerment in a variety of ways and to look for themes that transcend “context specific” situations. The idea is to use visual tools to prompt discussion about empowerment (and power) in the everyday lives and programs of learners and trainers.
Photos to come. Waiting to get the ok for a meeting on Monday!
Participatory Research and Pedagogy in Dadaab
Part of my work in Dadaab includes collecting data about youth led non- formal education. I approach my research from two sometimes contradictory perspectives, ethnographic and participatory action research (PAR). As a PhD student, I am interested in understanding how NGO workers and training intends to empower from an ethnographic perspective. As a visiting evaluator, I can get the most (and most thorough) data using a PAR approach. On Friday, we had a data collection training: