Church School in Kenya Helps Refugees From the Congo Heal

A Congolese student passes on a candle to his teacher as a symbol of successfully completing the Early Years of Education course at Dr. B.T. Cooper United Methodist School in Nairobi, Kenya. Of the 310 students enrolled at the school, 200 are Congolese children with refugee status. Photo by Gad Maiga, UM News.

Tears stream down the faces of Congolese students who are refugees as they share war accounts of losing their parents, homes and belongings.

“There is a problem on my heart,” Mugisha, a fifth grader, said. “I lost my family. After that, the people I lived with tortured me. When I remember it, I feel very hurt.”

Mugisha’s story is a typical one among the students at Dr. B.T. Cooper United Methodist School, where 200 of the 310 students are Congolese children with refugee status.

However, Reuben Replie Ososo, the school’s head teacher and an Africa University graduate, said Mugisha’s ability to talk about her experiences is a sign of healing.

“For the first time, the refugee students are learning how to grieve and process their stories,” Ososo said.

Kenya is among the top refugee-hosting countries in Africa. There are more than 476,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, with nearly 42,000 of them from Congo, according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The school also is mobilizing community leaders to lead trauma-healing sessions and extending the program into the community in conjunction with other schools and United Methodist churches around Nairobi County. The target is to reach out to 2,000 refugees in 2019, Ososo said.

He takes groups of 20 refugee students each week through the counseling sessions.

“We go through 10 topics,” he said. “They learn that they are important to God, how sin enters the world, and why bad things happen. During the second lesson, they learn to take their pain to the cross. There is a lot of crying and pain, and the teachers comfort them. We also do follow-ups at their homes. Children write their laments. They ask, ‘Why did God let my family die? Why am I a refugee?’”

Their sorrows begin to heal as they learn about forgiveness and about God’s love for them, Ososo said.

“We are seeing change,” he said. “Before, they didn’t even cry. Now, they participate in class, smile and laugh.”

Established in 1997 as a nursery school with one class operating inside Kayole St. John’s United Methodist Church, Dr. B.T. Cooper United Methodist School has since grown into a full primary school.

In addition to the Congolese students, more than 100 orphans and vulnerable children from the surrounding community attend the school. Many students are from the Kayole-Soweto slums and live in abject poverty, with most people earning less than one dollar per day.

The school is named in honor of the late Dr. Bernard Trent Cooper of Sonrise United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who helped raise funds for the school before his death in 2005. Cooper and Dr. Dan Odipo, both orthopedic surgeons, were instrumental in supporting the school.

Ososo said Cooper’s son, Dr. Jerry Cooper, also has provided valuable support to the school since his father’s death. “(Without him), we couldn’t be where we are,” he said.

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Source: United Methodist News