One minute you’re busy, busy busy in VodafoneZiggo’s Finance Department in Utrecht, the next you’re in a refugee camp for the Vodafone Foundation. Welcome to the life of Sarita Sewnarain. As a volunteer, she was already active in the Netherlands for the Vodafone Foundation. Now it’s time to contribute beyond borders with Vodafone Instant Schools. The mission? Improving the quality of education for young refugees and their teachers in Kenya.

"Touchdown, welcome to Nairobi airport." Sarita lands there with Phil, a Vodafone colleague from England. Claudio from Mozambique is already there, as is Walter, also from England. They go through the mission, test their equipment and make the necessary purchases before travelling to their final destination, some 800 kilometres from the Kenyan capital. There, in what can safely be called the middle of nowhere, is a refugee camp. No, a refugee city. Kakuma has existed since 1992 and is home to about 200,000 people. Most of them are orphaned children who have fled from civil war-ravaged neighbouring countries such as Sudan and Uganda.

Suitcases of hope
With support from UNHCR and numerous aid organisations, Kakuma has grown into a makeshift but complete city. Including a number of large schools, some with thousands of pupils. Six of these are participating in the Vodafone Foundation's Instant Schools programme. "An Instant School basically consists of two suitcases," Sarita explains. "One contains a mobile server full of content and lesson programmes for Vodafone Instant Schools that works both on and offline. And a modem that lets you access the internet from anywhere in the world. The other suitcase contains fifty tablets with lesson programmes, apps and information. This means access to modern and fun learning methods. And access to the world, beyond the desert and far beyond. It means hope."

Training coaches, teaching teachers
The team is staying in a fairly deserted compound on the outskirts of Kakuma. They will work from that relatively safe environment for a fortnight. "All the servers and 300 tablets are there, ready for us to clean, check and update. Over a period of three days, we then teach a delegation of local Instant School Coaches about the new features on the tablets. A great new feature, for example, is the app that allows you to create your own interactive lesson plans. A history lesson on Kenya, for example, in the form of a fun quiz. If it catches on, you can also share the quiz with other teachers. This way, you develop all kinds of new lesson material together, with the help of technology."

"After the coaches, it's the teachers' turn. We work with them too for two days on using the tablets, and all the tools and content available on them. And importantly: how do you ensure all the pupils at such a large school benefit from tablets? I’m learning a great deal in the process too. I'm a real perfectionist, so when there’s a brief hitch with my presentation, I immediately become extremely frustrated. These people don’t have that problem. They are grateful for what there is, and for what you bring. The participants are hesitant at the start of the training. But day by day, the energy increases until everyone is incredibly enthusiastic."

City of dust
The team is allowed to leave the compound for one day. “In a large jeep, we speed over a paved road and then - wham - onto a sand road towards the real Kakuma. We whizz between people, chickens and goats, and soon we’re in the narrow streets of the makeshift 'city of dust'. By that, I mean both the dust of the earth and the dust from the permanent tents that Kakuma is made up of." The schools, which are built of bricks, are an exception. Like the boarding school for girls they visit.

Sarita Vodafone Foundation Kenia

The young girls wear uniforms and look neat, but Sarita can see from their taut faces how hard this city must be for them. "When we ask what they want to become, we get a glimpse of their world. One wants to fight crime as a police officer, another wants to become a lawyer to fight child trafficking, another aspires to be a doctor to improve health. Driving change, that’s what it's all about. These students use our tablets to surf the net when they can and for self-study. They don’t take the value of education for granted. There’s a small number of scholarships for students from Kakuma - a rare opportunity for a future, which you wholeheartedly wish for all children here."

See you next year?
After two weeks, the mission is over. "We say our goodbyes to all the coaches and teachers, whom we also gave a refresher course on how to maintain the equipment themselves. They are looking forward to our return, scheduled for next year. 'You will come and see whether we have applied everything, won't you?' It would be very special to me to go back again and well worth it. But I also wholeheartedly wish this experience for other colleagues. It’s an experience you’ll never forget."

Vodafone Foundation Kenia

The Vodafone Netherlands Foundation has been using technology since 2002 to improve the lives of people in vulnerable positions. The foundation is an independent organization, part of a global network of 27 Vodafone Foundations. Through this unique network of foundations, we can respond to specific societal needs in the areas of health, education, and disaster relief in the countries where Vodafone is active. Read more about our international activities.