Project DEFY encourages peer to peer learning.

A school without teachers This Bengaluru project is helping a refugee camp in Uganda
news Education Thursday, December 29, 2016 - 15:52

Nakivale in Uganda houses one of the world’s largest refugee camps in the world. From, insurgencies and ethnic conflicts to military coups and civil wars, most of the camp’s residents are refugees who have fled these conflict zones in Central Africa.

Project DEFY, a school without teachers and a curriculum but encourages creative learning, was kick started in Bengaluru in 2014. It has now made its way to Nakivale, a place that has limited access to education and learning.

By watching online tutorials, members in the programme make articles from trash and other low-cost materials. Here, students are their own teachers.

“There are no classes and no structure. Members learn by asking their friends questions. Peer to peer learning is promoted as it is an essential part of making people comfortable with one place. Self-learning comes when people take initiative to learn and this is the second step,” said Arvind Badrinarayanan, Co-Director of Project DEFY.


People in different situations who enter Uganda are put into this camp. Most of the refugees who come here are from Central Africa. There are Somalis, Congolese, Sudanese, Burundians, Rwandan, Ethiopians, Eriteans. Some of them have lived there their whole lives and have had no access to education or any opportunities as their life begins and ends at the camp, Arvind adds.

The setting up of the project in Uganda was a happenstance. The project’s founder, Abhijit Sinha, had started a company in Uganda two years ago, that involved making low cost ambulances. A cart is attached to a motor cycle, which can be used as an ambulance. Abhijit had built contact there with Social Innovation Academy, an NGO who suggested that he replicate Project DEFY in Uganda. “By July 2016, they began sending us pictures of a space being constructed with mud and glass bottles as a space for one of our centres and the project was set up within months after,” Arvind said.

From creating footwear out of discarded clothes found in the trash to furniture, the refugees have even created a vertical slider for a projector.

The community space itself is built out of recycled materials. “The glass bottles create a beautiful effect, especially when the light reflects off the coloured glass,” Arvind says.

On the first day, the centre had eight people and the number grew to 50 on day two.

“The bigger challenge in functioning was that too many people showed up and wanted to use the space. It was a bit chaotic initially as the space can house 25 people at once and the numbers had crossed above 50. This problem was sorted after all the members in the group devised rules of engagement for internet and space,” said Abhijit Sinha, the founder of the project.

The project now has many takers and the centre has over 150 people coming in to learn. These learning centres are call Nooks and every Nook has a local hero, who ropes in members to join the project. The Uganda project has four of them – Patrick, Rafael, Sifa and Victor.

“They were the first ones who learned of the nook and began learning how to build toys made of recycled materials initially but there was this one person who started fixing mobile phones and small radios and also built a few extension cords on day one. It was second nature to him,” Abhijit added.

As the next step, Project DEFY plans to open 10 more nooks and at least 6 will be based out of India.