Rain in a Dry Land - The Challenges of Refugee Resettlement

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This lesson plan is designed to be used in conjunction with the film Rain in a Dry Land, which follows the stories of two modern-day Somali Bantu families who resettle in the United States. Note: A significant portion of the film includes subtitles.

Note: The filmmaker's version of the film contains profanity that may be inappropriate for classroom use. To avoid such content, be sure to record the PBS broadcast version off-air or request the "broadcast version" of the film from the POV lending library.

POV documentaries can be recorded off-the-air and used for educational purposes for up to one year from the initial broadcast. In addition, POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year — FOR FREE! Please visit our Film Library to find other films suitable for classroom use or to make this film a part of your school's permanent collection.


By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Use viewing skills and note taking strategies to understand and interpret a video clip;
  • Create and analyze a bar graph that represents the number of refugees admitted to the U.S from various regions of the world in a given year;
  • Work in groups to read an article and identify the challenges faced by various organizations that assist refugees;
  • Develop strategies to address the challenges of resettling refugees.


SUBJECT AREAS: U.S. and World History, Sociology, Geography, Current Events


  • Political map of Africa showing the location of Somalia and Kenya
  • Handout: Viewing Guide (PDF)
  • Method (varies by school) of showing the class a video clip from the POV website for Rain in a Dry Land, or have a copy of the film and a VHS/DVD player and monitor
  • Computers with Internet access, or printouts of articles used in the lesson.

ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: Two 50-minute class periods, plus homework


Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya (length: 9:02)

This clip provides cultural information on Somali refugees, illustrates life in the refugee camp and shows some of the information they learn about the U.S. in preparation for resettlement. (For those using the DVD, the clip begins at 5:40 with text on the screen: "Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, January 2004." The clip ends at 14:45 after the line, "There is a fire.")



Smaller than the state of Texas, Somalia is located on the Eastern-most tip of Africa. It shares borders with Ethiopia (with whom it has had perennial border disputes), Djibouti, and Kenya. It sits just across the Arabian Sea from Yemen.

Though instability has made exact figures impossible to obtain, the population is about 9 million, with a Somali majority and Bantu minority. Nearly all are Sunni Muslim.

After a history of colonization by both the British (in the north) and Italians (in the south), and a nine-year struggle for power, Somalia formally declared independence in 1969. With backing from the Soviet Union, a socialist, authoritarian government ruled Somalia for two decades.

In 1991, the Somali government was overthrown by insurgents. This was followed by a number of secessions in the northern part of the country during the 1990s. The nation has been torn by factional fighting ever since.

When the resulting instability led to widespread famine, the United Nations stepped in to provide relief. The U.S. military deployed forces in order to protect those humanitarian operations but met resistance from independent factional forces. On October 3, 1993, a U.S. military operation in the nation's capital, Mogadishu, was met by resistance from fighters led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. What was planned as a quick, surgical strike turned into violent chaos, leaving 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis dead. U.S. forces subsequently withdrew. By 1995, the country had become too dangerous for the U.N. workers and they, too, withdrew.


1. Introduce students to the types of circumstances faced by refugees with a viewing activity. Begin by showing students where Somalia and Kenya are on a world map. Tell the class that in 1991, civil war broke out in Somalia, and that thousands of Somalian Bantu families fled from the violence across the border into Kenya where they've lived for years in United Nations refugee camps. The United States is now resettling thousands of these refugees in cities all across America. To prepare for this resettlement, the refugees attend a class to learn about life in the U.S. Explain that you are going to show the class a video clip (length: approximately nine minutes) that provides cultural information on the refugees, illustrates life in the refugee camp, and shows some of the information they learn about the U.S. in preparation for resettlement. Then, distribute the Viewing Guide and show the clip. (The clip begins at 5:40 with text on the screen: "Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, January 2004." The clip ends at 14:45 after the line, "There is a fire.")

2. After watching the video, discuss student responses to the questions on the Viewing Guide. Point out that the people in the film left their homes as a result of persecution, and they are unable or unwilling to return to their homes because of conditions there. These circumstances are what define such people as "refugees."

3. Tell students that the U.S. also assists refugees from other regions of the world. Display or replicate the table of "proposed ceilings" from the Arthur E. Dewey interview of the POV Web feature, "In Search of the Durable Solution: The Refugee Situation Today." Explain that the President of the U.S. establishes these numbers each year after a study group reviews the resettlement needs of refugees worldwide and considers the domestic and international implications of U.S. refugee policy. (Note: The "unallocated reserve" number can be used to admit additional refugees in the event that numbers allocated to a particular region are insufficient and resources to fund them are identified early in the fiscal year.) Ask students to organize the table's data in a simple bar graph that compares the numbers of refugees admitted from various regions in the world. How does the representation of the data in a table compare to its display in a bar graph? What do students think is the best way to illustrate the numbers? Why? If possible, connect students' prior studies of world regions and events to the data in the table by asking them to explain why the refugee allocations for some regions of the world might be higher than those for others.

4. Next, divide students into groups that will each examine an interview from the POV Web feature, "In Search of the Durable Solution: The Refugee Situation Today." As they read, have each group identify the organization that the interviewee represents and list the challenges faced by this organization as they support refugees. Then, each group should develop a list of recommended strategies for how each challenge could be addressed.

5. Have each group report its findings and recommendations to the class. Discuss challenges shared among the various organizations, as well as the potential impact of the strategies developed by the student groups.


Students can be assessed on:

  • Completing the Viewing Guide.
  • Accurate and clear representations of data in their bar graphs, including the use of labels.
  • Contributions during group work and class discussions.


  • Have students send their list of recommended strategies to the organizations featured in the Take Action section of this website.
  • Adjusting to life in a new country can be especially challenging if one isn't familiar with cultural norms. Illustrate this fact for students by having them take the POV "Culture Shock" quiz about Vietnamese culture. Discuss examples of cultural differences that the Bantu families experienced throughout the film Rain in a Dry Land (e.g., their frustrating experience trying to buy chicken at Taco Bell and at the grocery store). Have students develop a "Culture Shock" quiz of their own showcasing U.S. customs.
  • Look deeper at the experiences of specific immigrants as they've adjusted to American culture. You could do this by watching the POV films, Mai's America, Rain in a Dry Land or Lost Boys of Sudan in their entirety, by inviting a school ESL teacher or immigrants from the community into the classroom as guest speakers, or by reading accounts of immigrant experiences available online or in print. What role do language, religion, music, values and social customs play in helping immigrants adjust to life in American society? What characteristics help or hinder their transition? What aspects of cultural identity did these immigrants choose to preserve as they settled in the U.S.? What part of their identities did they change? For an interesting reverse perspective of an American couple emigrating and adjusting to life in the African country of Tanzania, check out the POV film and website, A Panther in Africa.
  • Challenge students to help refugees by volunteering for community organizations that support local refugee immigrants, or by raising funds and donating them to national or international groups that provide refugee assistance.
  • Have students research and create a timeline that compares historical U.S. refugee admissions policies and trends with what is happening today. Then, discuss factors that may have influenced policy changes over time.
  • Brainstorm strategies for how students can help classmates from other cultures adapt to American customs that might seem different to them and develop a greater sense of belonging.


Somali Bantu
Learn more about the history and culture of Somalia, and about the recent civil war that devastated the country.

Take Action
Seven things that you can do today to help refugees.

Also on PBS and NPR
Access news stories from Frontline, NewsHour, All Things Considered, Day to Day and more public television and radio programs about the Somalia's civil war and refugee situation.

"In Search of the Durable Solution," Lost Boys of Sudan
Seven experts from the field talk about the complex issues around working with refugees resettling in the United States. (2004, updated 2007)

"One Day I Had to Run," Lost Boys of Sudan
John Deng Langbany, a refugee who was five years old when he fled the civil war in Sudan, tells the story of the journey that took him to the refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, and ultimately, to the U.S. (2004)


These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning).

Behavioral Studies, Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.

Civics, Standard 23: Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations.

Geography, Standard 6: Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.

Geography, Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Geography, Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Language Arts, Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Language Arts, Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

U.S. History, Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in broadcast journalism, secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Background Sources

"Black Hawk Down." Bowden, Mark. Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved February 2007.

Country profile: Somalia. In BBC News Country Profiles. Retrieved February 24, 2007, from BBC News.

"The Lessons of Somalia." Crocker, Chester A. Foreign Affairs, May-June 1995.

Somalia. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved February 24, 2007.

Somalia. In CIA World Factbook. Retrieved February 24, 2007.