Fun and Games in a Refugee Camp

Joel Baraka x’22 devises a novel way for children to learn in his own onetime home.

Refugee students playing board game

Baraka’s organization has distributed 200 board games to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. Joel Baraka

Joel Baraka x’22 grew up in the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in Uganda after his family fled civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo when he was one year old. Although he’s been fortunate enough to attend UW–Madison on a King-Morgridge scholarship, finding a way to help other children growing up in the camp was never far from his mind.

The civil and environmental engineering major decided the best way to do that was by creating a board game to make learning fun. His game 5 STA-Z covers Uganda’s core subjects of math, social science, science, and English and is designed for groups of five. Because the crowded camp can lead to classes of up to 150 students, using a game that students can play in small groups provides a practical solution.

“What excites me about this is the idea that children can learn from one another,” Baraka says. “As they are playing the game, they are learning and becoming stars while mastering the content. When you look at the name, it’s five stars, but it’s spelled with ‘A-Z’ because I wanted to create a game that covered the full curriculum of Uganda.”

Baraka enlisted the help of his friend and fellow engineering major Anson Liow ’21, an international student from Malaysia, to design the game’s packaging. “Joel showed me how much of an impact a simple idea and hard work can make,” says Liow. The duo has now partnered to improve the game and reach more children across Uganda.

Since raising more than $12,000 from a GoFundMe page, Baraka’s organization, My Home Stars, has distributed 200 games to the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. Baraka hopes to continue growing the initiative.

“Our goal is to develop a model that works in Uganda which we [can] replicate and spread across the African continent,” he says.

Published in the Summer 2021 issue

Tags: refugees, scholarship, Teaching and learning

Leave a comment