From their haphazard and swift construction to their long-standing presence in regions around the world, refugee camps “are places without history” (p. 17). Refugee camps are places that often lack a sense of their own history as embodied and experienced by the people within the camp. While we hear of the desperation, the need, the separation, and the isolation, we hear few individual voices and their stories of agency, resilience, and advocacy. In Educating for Durable Solutions: Histories of Schooling in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee Camps, Christine Monaghan seeks to right this wrong by capturing the histories of two refugee camps in East Africa. The work draws on extensive and impressive data collection that includes oral histories with refugee teachers and students in both the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, interviews with current and former policy makers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and archival research at the UNHCR archives in Geneva, Switzerland. As an aspiring researcher in the field of education in emergencies, a former history teacher, and the daughter of individuals who lived, worked, and spent time in refugee contexts because of the crises in Sudan and South Sudan, I found Monaghan’s work captivating and insightful.

Educating for Durable Solutions draws attention to three key lessons: the challenges of conducting research in settings like refugee camps, the dedication and care the researcher must exhibit in collecting these stories, and the importance of oral histories as a data source. Monaghan’s discussion of how she conducted research and how the research process was emblematic of the differences she experienced in each camp was fascinating. She makes clear the contrast between the month of relative freedom she had to travel by motorbike taxis, walk through Kakuma to meet with participants, and dine in Ethiopian restaurants owned by refugees and the jam-packed week she spent conducting fifteen interviews per day in Dadaab because of security issues around the presence of Al Shabab, an Islamist militant group linked to Al-Qaeda. Inherent in her portrayal of the data collection is Monaghan’s dedication and care in collecting the stories of refugees, from opening with an anecdote about her meeting with Martin, a school principal in Dadaab, to recounting her methods in Dadaab and Kakuma and describing her experience in combing through the UNHCR archives.

The book presents a compelling argument about the importance of historical reconstruction through oral histories, particularly in spaces where written accounts lack the rich and thick descriptions of the peoples and the policy makers living and working in refugee camps. With a constructivist approach, Monaghan’s narrative weaves together the stories of Dadaab and Kakuma before turning to an analysis of the “critical junctures that determine the subsequent range of choices and actual possibilities available to policymakers and practitioners” (p. 19). For the aspiring researcher who seeks to work in settings like Dadaab and Kakuma, this book offers a window into the significance of historical research. From her experience as a researcher capturing the histories of her participants, Monaghan reminds readers of the importance of triangulating and complexifying historical research through rigorous attention to objectively archived data amid experimental data. This research is critical to the field of international education and education in emergencies but is sorely lacking.

Monaghan offers a rare chronological reconstruction of the histories of Dadaab and Kakuma between 1992 and 2012. Using oral histories and putting them in conversation with UNHCR archival documents, she brings to life both the state and UNHCR policies through the voices and stories of those who implemented them or were impacted by them. We follow Samuel, among others, who is introduced as a former child soldier, and trace his story alongside careful elucidations of UNHCR policy changes. Though we learn of Samuel’s successes—his graduation from the high school in the Kakuma camp and the scholarship he received to attend Makarare University in Uganda—we are simultaneously confronted with the restrictions placed on refugees as they navigate state lines and camp borderlines. Despite “completion of their bachelor’s degrees,” individuals like Sam “were not able to locally integrate to Kenya or other countries where they studied. The majority returned to camps and took up incentive jobs . . . as secondary teachers or head teachers” (p. 81). Monaghan shows the stark realities of “success” stories of refugee education by presenting stories like Samuel’s alongside the history of the emergent refugee crises in Dadaab in the 2000s and by demonstrating the ways the state and UNHCR policies limited and entrapped individuals within camp settings. Later, when the refugee crisis worsened in Dadaab and resources were drawn from Kakuma to focus on the “emergency situation” for Somalian refugees, we learn about the complexities of how UNHCR and partner organizations were forced to make critical decisions about funding, namely whether or not education fell within the arena of “need.”

Educating for Durable Solutions appeals to the reader who has tried to piece together the stories of their own relatives and to the researcher who has sought to trace a timeline and connections between oral histories and key events in refugee education history. Monaghan delivers tangible comparisons and conclusions across the cases of Dadaab and Kakuma. As the daughter of a South Sudanese immigrant and the cousin of Lost Boys who eventually found their way to the United States, I found Monaghan’s impressive undertaking of constructing a history and highlighting the critical junctures to be the true goldmine in this text. As she defines them, critical junctures “are distinct from incremental change or periods of transition; they are swift moments when individuals’ actors or groups make contingent choices that can establish a new status quo” (p. 95). As such, she identifies six critical points at which refugees or UNHCR staff “recognized an opportunity to make changes to UNHCR’s education program and effectively did so, either through public or private advocacy” (p. 95). These junctures provide both a frame of reference and analysis for individuals who seek to understand the similarities and differences across Dadaab and Kakuma. From initial decisions over curriculum, language of instruction, and emphasis on primary education to the publication of UNCHR’s Refugee Education: A Global Review in 2011 and the 2012–2016 Education Strategy, Monaghan highlights how these junctures have shaped refugee education. This captures the experiences of the refugees and the Lost Boys I have interacted with as family members, coworkers, and friends, providing key points of reference and clarity to the narratives that, growing up, I so often heard from individuals about their education.

Comparative analysis is the strength of this text, appealing to researchers, practitioners, and caring individuals seeking to understand how this analysis can inform our understanding of refugee education in Dadaab and Kakuma. In studying these two cases, we learn that senior education officers with expertise in education can significantly strengthen the organization and opportunities of UNHCR’s education program. In addition, we see how “emergency situations” in camps require further resources and greater haste on the part of funding and staffing, and yet such “increases have seldom kept pace with the education needs of refugees” (p. 106). And finally, we understand that refugees can and do influence the scope and scale of education programming, demonstrating the ways refugees capitalize on and exercise agency within settings of displacement. These surfaced themes and findings ring true to the experiences and stories Monaghan features, and they square with my own understandings of refugee experiences in Kakuma and Dadaab.

Although Monaghan dutifully captures the stories of agency, advocacy, and organization on the part of refugees in both the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, her text would have been further strengthened by a discussion of the hierarchies and power dynamics inherent between UNHCR and other international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and in their interactions with refugees. In weaving together these voices to create the story of refugee education in Kenya, it is critical that we be keenly aware of the ways refugees are ensnared in a protracted stay outside of their home countries, during which they are left few options for a future after they finish their schooling.

In one of her closing points, Monaghan argues that one of the reasons refugee education has yet to change is because UNHCR and its partner INGOs have “advocated for caution and conservative rather than radical changes to refugee education” (p. 123). Here we acknowledge and point out the tension: all parties’ voices and decisions are not equal within the space of refugee education. And there are ways the complexities, successes, and losses are marred by their integration into one story. Monaghan states that the UNHCR does not advocate for radical solutions that might help shorten the duration of refugee stays, but I wonder if refugee voices might help us envision radical change. We are left to wonder, What would radical change look like in refugee education, and who would drive this radical change?

Educating for Durable Solutions will nourish the minds of many—policy makers, researchers, and even those who know of the histories of Dadaab and Kakuma through family members but have only heard the story piece by piece. This work is essential for anyone interested in refugee education and policy. Perhaps more importantly, this text is critical for those who have sought to understand the transnational nature and ebb and flow of refugee populations and how this has, in part, been dictated by policies from the states and from within the camps. As the number of people living in refugee camps continues to grow due to violent conflict and climate crises, Monaghan’s work serves as a critical reminder that these seemingly “temporary” solutions are indeed protracted, and we have much to learn from the stories of those who inhabit and sustain these spaces as they seek to educate our world’s children.