Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom
To compensate the lost years of young school dropouts, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme in five refugee-hosting districts in Uganda.
AGNES KAIRANGWA, 20, was in senior two at Bujubuli secondary school in Kyaka II refugee settlement when she became pregnant.
“The father of my baby convinced me to drop out of school and become his wife. However, a year into the marriage, everything turned bitter as my husband started to mistreat me,” Agnes now says.
“It got to a point when I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I left the marriage and returned to my father’s home. I started selling silver fish in the market to get money to take care of my baby.”
Born in a family of five, Agnes Kairangwa is the youngest child of a single parent household. Two of her elder siblings have already completed Secondary Education. The rest of her brothers and sisters are still in school.
Seven years have passed since Agnes dropped the school and she is now a mother of two. Listening to her siblings talk about their classes and what they have learned in school has made Agnes feel left out.
“Even though deep down I felt I wanted to go back to school, I knew it was impossible as I had spent many years out of class, and I felt I was too old to return to school.
One afternoon, while Agnes was at her market stall, she heard a radio announcement from Finn Church Aid (FCA) calling and encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school.
“They stressed the importance of education and I felt encouraged to return to school,” she tells.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to pay fees for herself. She had just enrolled her young daughter in school and all the money from her business was going to be spent in the child’s scholastic fees and other needs.
Finally, with support from FCA, Agnes was enrolled at Bukere Secondary School. FCA staff members also visited Agnes’ father and encouraged him to support her education.
Accelerated Education project supports those who have lost years of school
There are many young women like Agnes Kairangwa. To speed up the learning after years spent out of school, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) in five refugee-hosting districts of Kyegegwa, Kikuube, Isingiro in South Western Uganda and Terego and Madi Okollo in West Nile. The programme is funded by European Union Humanitarian aid (ECHO).
The programme is an integral part of the Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education project (INCLUDE) and it uses specially designed and condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum. By covering two to three grades of primary education in one year and using teaching methods appropriate for different age groups, learners who have lost many school years can transit into the formal schooling system.
“Sometimes I would dodge school”
Going back to school is not easy.
“During the first weeks at school, I found it challenging and wanted to drop out, but officers from Finn Church Aid kept encouraging me to stay in school,” says Agnes.
“Considering the years spent out of school, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch up. I was also afraid my schoolmates would body shame me as I had gained weight and I was older than them,” she says.
Adding to her agony in the beginning, Agnes’ ex-husband kept approaching her on her way to school, trying to convince her to drop it and get married again.
“Sometimes I would dodge school, so I didn’t have to meet him on the way,” she tells.
“I appreciate the Finn Church Aid staff who kept encouraging me and providing me with the moral and psychosocial support.”
Not only is Agnes now studying but performing well in her class. FCA got her a full education scholarship through the UN Refugee Agency, and she is working hard to be an accountant in one day.
Finn Church Aid implements the INCLUDE programme in a consortium of four partners including Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, War Child Holland and Humanity and Inclusion.
“I am already eager to try out all these new techniques in practice” – 71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma
School is an important meeting place where children can get help dealing with issues that weigh on their minds. That’s why we train Ukrainian teachers and school psychologists on psychosocial skills.
71 TEACHERS and school psychologists received training on mental health and psychosocial skills in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. Finn Church Aid organised the training in cooperation with the local educational authorities.
The trainer was the experienced psychologist, consultant Koen Sevenants. The two-day training included lectures, discussions, role-plays and group work. The goal was to strengthen the readiness of staff working in Ukrainian schools to deal with children and young people who have had to go through traumatic experiences due to the ongoing war.
“What is valuable here is that we work with a coach who is an understanding person with experience internationally from working with people, particularly children, of different backgrounds who have gone through various traumatic events,” explains psychologist Liudmyla Lozova, who participated in the training.
The training covered the effects of trauma on children and adults. Trained teachers and school psychologists were introduced to different tools, which they can later use in their own work.
”The information is conveyed in a manner that’s very easy to perceive. I am already eager to try all these new techniques out in practice,” Lozova continues and says that she has already found similar trainings useful in her own work.
Psychologist Iryna Lisovetska says that she has been working as a volunteer psychologist ever since conflict started in the Donbass region in 2014. She has already worked with, for example, internally displaced children, soldiers and the families of fallen military personnel.
”Now, having gone through the war personally, having spent some time under shelling and bombardments, we empathise with those people we are assisting much better. Both adults and children,” Lisovetska reflects.
She says that she participated in the training because she believes that the new skills will be useful later in her work of responding to the trauma created by the ongoing war.
Missile strikes hit the area during the training
Education in emergencies is at the core of FCA’s work. Children and young people who live in the middle of conflicts benefit from the continuity and sense of belonging that schools bring to their everyday life.
School is also an important meeting place, where children can find support from adults and seek help in dealing with stressful issues. That is why it is important that school staff – such as teachers and psychologists – have adequate tools to address trauma.
Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine, who followed the training on site, says that based on the feedback, the participants were very satisfied with the training and its contents.
“The atmosphere was good, and the feedback was 99 percent positive. We are still going through the feedback, but at first glance the participants seem very satisfied,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and has lasted for more than four months. There are currently no Russian troops in the Chernihiv area, but Russia carried out missile strikes in the area during the training.
“One participant had to leave the training in tears because her home was on fire. In addition, the home of one local staff member from FCA was damaged in the attack in the nearby Desna area,” Georis describes.
Finn Church Aid and the city of Chernihiv recently signed a cooperation agreement, thanks to which educational work can continue in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine. In the next phase of the education response work, summer activities, such as sports, arts and games, will be organised for up to 15.000 children in the area. For this FCA has ensured that teachers will be trained to also respond to children who have further need of psychosocial support.
According to Ukrainian estimates, bombings have destroyed and damaged more than 1,800 schools. The students are currently on summer vacation, but classes are supposed to start again in September.
“The floods destroyed everything we knew” – children and their families are returning to their homes in Fangak, South Sudan after devastating flooding.
South Sudan has been hit by multiple shocks in the last years. Following a brutal conflict and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, floods washed away many villages, schools and livestock, forcing people to flee and leaving little to eat or farm.
FCA is helping them rebuild with funding from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).
“THIS IS the classroom that I used to learn in. It breaks my heart to see our school in this state.”
Nyaluak Kuach Khor, 17, stands in front of the wreckage of a building near pools of stagnant water, mud clinging to the battered foundations and to Nyaluak’s bare feet.
The teenager, who lives in a household of 30 people, depended on the classroom as a quiet place to study. When floods destroyed her school, she was devastated. Like many young people, going to class is so much more than lessons. It’s a place to find quiet, the support of friends and mentors, protection from the outside pressures of life, and the dream of choosing their own path in life.
The United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that in 2022 more than two-thirds of South Sudan’s population are in need of humanitarian assistance. That’s 8.9 million people and an increase of 600,000 since 2021.
One of Finn Church Aid’s key objectives is to ensure as many children and young people as possible have the opportunity to attend school and receive a quality education.
When historic flooding ravaged Fangak County in South Sudan in 2021, children lost their access to education. Parents lost their sources of income, as cattle were swept away and fields became unfarmable.
That’s why, with EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), we’ve been supporting over 10,000 pupils access schooling in the area. Our holistic project builds mobile learning spaces for children to continue their education in flexible, flood-responsive spaces. It also provides their parents with livelihood opportunities and school teachers with quality training.
With support, parents are able to afford to send their children to school and teachers feel supported in our shared mission to provide quality education for all.
Local people told us they fear a return of floods, as well as following drought, creating impossible environments for farming or habitation, as conditions lurch from one extreme to another. They are keenly aware these are the effects of climate change.
In the photos below, meet some of the students, teachers and parents, who are returning to Fangak.
Nyaluak Kuach, a 17-year-old pupil at Bichulkon Primary School, poses for a photograph in New Fangak, South Sudan.Nyaluak Kuach, a 17-year-old pupil at Bichulkon Primary School, poses for a photograph in New Fangak, South Sudan.
“I try to influence my friends who are not in school, I discuss the importance of education and invite them over when I am revising and doing homework. This is to encourage them to like education, so hopefully they tell their parents that they want to start their own education.
The biggest fear I have right now is the flood. We are scared that the floods may return and disrupt our learning and lives again. The other fear is that we don’t have proper shelter, the mobile learning space shelter we have now might not last long. It is a tent, so it is vulnerable to high heat and wind. Also, we don’t have school uniforms. This is important so that we can be identified as students, I think more children would attend school if they could see us every day in our uniforms.
The other is the fear of forced marriage. Most girls are forced into marriages under-age, and others without consent. Many are forced by their parents – especially fathers who want wealth, will give you out to anybody of their desire. Girls are always more vulnerable here.”
Nyaluak hopes to become a doctor
“Our village was totally submerged under water. All our learning facilities and learning material got destroyed. The biggest fear I have right now is the flood. We are scared that the floods may return and disrupt our learning and lives again.
The other is the fear of forced marriage. Most girls are forced into marriages under-age, and others without consent. Many are forced by their parents – especially fathers who want wealth. Girls are always more vulnerable here.
I lost one of my friends to early marriage. Her name is Nyatot. She was forced into marriage in year 4 of primary school and was terribly affected by it. Everyday she cried, pleading to her father to keep her in school, but he never listened to her. She has since been married off and now has one child. I’m really sad about it.”
Nyareek Turuk Nyang (L) talks with Nyaluak Kuach Khor (R) as they attend classes at Bilculkuon Primary School in New Fangak, South Sudan.Nyareek Turuk Nyang (L) talks with Nyaluak Kuach Khor (R) as they attend classes at Bilculkuon Primary School in New Fangak, South Sudan, on 10 March 2022.
Nyareek Turuk Nyang dreams of becoming a pilot
“Being educated changes attitudes, it can even lead to peaceful resolutions of conflict. It cultivates peaceful coexistence between communities, more so with each generation. I will make sure that all my children receive a full education.
Our entire community was displaced by the floods which caused a complete reset in our lives. All of us were then subject to disease and hunger.
Food sources and farmlands were wiped out along with our homes. This meant that disease spread easily, augmented by the fact that people were living in close proximity to each other.”
Simon Jaak, 48 years old, stands for a photograph after receiving cash support in Tonga, New Fangak, South Sudan.Simon Jaak, 48 years old, stands for a photograph after receiving cash support in Tonga, New Fangak, South Sudan.
Simon received cash to support his disabled daughter
“I was a farmer like many other families before the floods. The deluge destroyed my land and everything on it. I have since had to change my entire lifestyle. I now spend my days fishing in what once was dry land. It is a struggle to survive from selling the fish that I catch.
The outlook was very bleak until Finn Church Aid stepped in and started to assist our community and many others around the country. I started to receive first hand assistance to help kickstart my new career as a fisherman. They gave me nets, hooks, and other equipment so that I could start taking care of my family once again.
Another devastating impact of the floods was the end of education for so many children. I have a 15-year-old daughter who is currently in level 3 of primary school. Due to her disability, Monica became a beneficiary of FCA’s programme. Their support has helped me ensure that she can get her education. The cash assistance allows me to guarantee that she has access to fresh, healthy food. This in turn improves her ability to concentrate and retain more knowledge. I can also buy her the supplies and equipment that she might need for school, such as pens, books, and bags. I want her to have all the tools she needs to succeed.”
Nyahow Biliu and her children stand for a photograph in front of their home in New Fangak, South SudanNyahow Biliu and her children stand for a photograph in front of their home in New Fangak, South Sudan.
Nyahow fears the effects of climate change
“I am so grateful for the support that we have received through the cash assistance system provided by Finn Church Aid. It lets me buy things my kids need for school, such as stationary and other study materials.
These floods destroyed everything that we knew. We used to be farmers, we would make our living this way and were able to feed our families. The arable land was totally unusable after the floods. Now we are facing a terrible drought, and we haven’t even had time to recover from the floods. To survive, we have had to fish in the slowly disappearing water and eat any edible wild plants we find, like waterlilies.
Then this fierce dry heat started to spread, and we started to hear rumours about an approaching drought. Going from one extreme to the next was, and still is, unimaginably hard. Many of our crops are starting to fail due to the climate change, and I don’t know where we would be without assistance from Finn Church Aid.”
Lony Doar, a 37-year-old teacher at William Chuol Primary School, gives a science lesson in New Fangak, South Sudan.Lony Doar, a 37-year-old teacher at William Chuol Primary School, gives a science lesson in New Fangak, South Sudan, on 16 March 2022.
Lony, a science teacher, received training from FCA
“I find it very rewarding to come into work every day and cultivate young minds. Also, this training has made it easier to tell when a child is struggling in class. I now feel like I can go and console a child when they are confused or uncomfortable.
I went to school for the first time in 2001 at the age of 26, but continued studying every year until I finished my formal education in 2012.
Despite all the assistance we have received from Finn Church Aid, we still have a long way to go in improving the children’s education. More children want to start their education now because the community here can see first-hand the great work that Finn Church Aid are doing. Capacity is an issue; we are starting to run out of space. This means that we need more classrooms to be built to accommodate the needs of the community. This in turn means we need more teachers.”
Nhial Kek Koang, a 49-year-old headteacher at Bichulkon Primary School, listens to an audio teaching guide in New Fangak, South Sudan.Nhial Kek Koang, a 49-year-old headteacher at Bichulkon Primary School, listens to an audio teaching guide in New Fangak, South Sudan.
Nhial is a headteacher with a passion for education
“What I am trying to do is build the road to peace. I have brought people who have previously been involved in crime or armed groups to school, with the hope that they will find a new path in life. Some of them have become transformed people. I am fighting for this because I don’t believe in racism and segregation. You can unite all people.
I would like the world to know that education is the backbone of every country. It should be the first priority you give as a humanitarian agency. This community will not leave this area because when they see their children learning, there will be no problems even when they face a lot of hunger.
We appreciate Finn Church Aid; they have done a lot for this community for many years now. They built these schools and provided all the materials we needed, taught the teachers, and trained us to be the guardians of our schools. The exceptional training that we received is what made these schools great. Finn Church Aid taught us how to manage the school and classrooms, about teacher’s roles, well-being and how to conduct ourselves.”
We work with EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding in an innovative project to build the resilience of the population in New Fangak to respond to challenges, such as conflict and adverse weather conditions leading to a lack of food.
Through a holistic method of improving schools, training teachers and assisting families of children with livelihood support, the whole community’s quality of life improves.
In the last year, we’ve helped 10,397 children access quality education, supported 1,036 households with emergency cash and provided 211 teachers with training.
In addition, we’ve helped families find alternative livelihoods, provided seeds and agriculatural tools with relevant training. We also conduct door to door awareness campaigns on child protection and back to school information.
The Minister of Education & Sports in Uganda commissions Bukere Secondary School in refugee settlement
The First Lady of the Republic of Uganda and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni, commissioned Bukere Secondary School, on 16 March in Kyaka II refugee settlement, Kyegegwa district, Western Uganda.
CONSTRUCTED BY Finn Church Aid (FCA) with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), the school was built during the two years that schools were closed during the covid pandemic.
Speaking during the commissioning of the school, the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni appreciated how the United States PRM and FCA are helping to improve the quality education in the refugee settlements.
“On behalf of the Government of Uganda and in particular the Ministry of Education and Sports I want to congratulate, commend and applaud the US Government’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and Finn Church Aid not only for the outstanding achievement we are witnessing here today but for all the work they have accomplished to make a difference in the lives of people who came as strangers seeking asylum and who, because of their willingness to join us now, have hope for a bright future even when the time comes for them to return to their own homes,” she said.
Uganda hosts over 1.54 million refugees and asylum-seekers mainly from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi and hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), about 60 percent of the total refugee population are children below 18 years.
“Bukere Secondary school will enable refugees and host community children and adolescents to attain quality secondary education. Kyaka II refugee settlement previously had only one secondary school to cater for hundreds of secondary school students within the settlement,” says Wycliffe Nsheka, Country Director, FCA Uganda.
The new school will accommodate over 600 students from senior one to senior four.
Education gives hope to refugee children
“Education is a major intervention in the refuge communities because it gives hope to refugee children and their parents … it brings a sense of normalcy to their lives. It also provides protection mechanisms for children in those challenging conditions. Above all, it gives children a stable foundation so they can achieve the full potential of their lives,” said the Minister.
The school was constructed under the LEARN Project, an education project for refugee and host community children and adolescents that is being implemented in Kyaka and Bidibidi, Palorinya refugee and Rwamwanja refugee settlements.
Under this project, FCA has constructed 72 classrooms, five libraries, nine science laboratories, five school administration blocks, 80 teachers’ accommodation units and 194 toilet blocks for teachers and students in these settlements.
Together with the Ministry of Education, FCA is the co-lead for education sector that coordinates the education response for refugees and host populations countrywide. Along with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), FCA works with UNHCR and other actors responding to the needs of refugees in Uganda.
Dreams at stake – 21-year-old Rose had just two weeks of school before lockdown hit
The covid-19 pandemic has derailed the lives of young people in South Sudan, a country recovering from a civil war. Rose, living in Yei, finally has a new opportunity to pursue her dreams.
WILD VEGETATION surrounds crumbled, abandoned mud huts. Scattered around, there are the remains of cars, stripped of wheels and other removable parts. Empty houses are missing their most valuable parts: tin roofs and windows.
The surge in returnees that accelerated prior to the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t repaired the damages caused by the 2016 civil war around the city of Yei. The sight is still stomach-churning for those returning to the region, says 29-year-old Viola Jabu. Life in Yei began completely anew, without a home or work.
“When we decided to return, I was afraid there’d be no one in Yei,” Viola Jaby says. She began the journey home from a Ugandan refugee settlement with nine children and adolescents in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
“I was relieved to see plenty of life on the streets. However, our home had been destroyed.”
Viola Jabu and her family have settled behind an abandoned petrol station on a busy street. The suitcases and bags, in which the family has packed their entire life, are neatly piled in the children’s bedroom. The parents sleep in a storage room, lit by the light coming in through a tiny window.
“We returned from Uganda because life as a refugee was tough. It was difficult to find food and work and the children were often ill. My husband lived here already and told us that it’s safe now,” Viola Jabu tells.
“We couldn’t have imagined that we’d have to face a pandemic, too.”
Over a year without school
Across the street is St. Joseph’s s School. There, 21-year-old Rose Night began her second year as an upper secondary school student. Rose lives with her uncle Woi Wilson, Viola Jabu’s partner. Rose’s parents abandoned her when she was a child; her father disappeared, and her mother moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Wearing her school uniform, Rose has patiently listened to our conversation for over an hour. Then she can no longer wait.
“When are you going to ask me something?” she asks. It’s uncommon for students to volunteer for interviews unprompted.
“School has taught me that one must be courageous and study a lot, so that it’s possible to make one’s own decisions in life. With the help of education, you can find work and look after yourself,” she quotes her teachers.
Rose started school at the age of nine with support from her uncle, and her dream is to become a lawyer. Uncle Woi Wilson hopes Rose will one day study at a university.
Rose’s schooling already came to a halt once when the family fled to Uganda. After returning to South Sudan, she was in school for just two weeks before the closure.
“We were told to stay at home and be patient, but there was nothing to do. I was sad.”
In South Sudan, the opportunities to switch to remote learning were non-existent, which is why numerous children and adolescents had their schooling suspended for over a year. In a country that has already suffered from a civil war, it is estimated that 2.2 million children didn’t go to school before the pandemic, and according to an estimate by UNICEF, the pandemic doubled the number to 4.3 million.
Viola Jabu and Woi Wilson organised home schooling for the children, so that they wouldn’t forget the importance of education in pursuing their dreams. Everywhere in the world, the lives of the young are full of temptations. Rose kept her chin up.
“Young people started to act up, run off from home at night, party and drink and consume other drugs. I didn’t do like the others and that’s why some distanced themselves from me,” Rose says.
“Young people no longer knew where their lives were headed.”
Viola Jabu’s family is building a kitchen garden in front of an old petrol station. In the city every plot that can be used for growing is utilised. Pictured also cousins Grace (left) and Rose.
Viola Jabu was home schooling children and adolescents when schools where closed because of the pandemic.
Rose dreams of university studies and becoming a lawyer.
A new kind of threat
Yei is the third largest city in South Sudan and strategically important for commerce due to its location near the borders to both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.
The county surrounding the city is known as the granary of South Sudan, and in peacetime Yei can ensure the availability of food in the entire country.
The current peace agreement has been in force for over three years, yet outside the city there are still armed groups that haven’t signed it. The residents can’t go to the vast fields in the villages, so it’s common to see corn planted on roadsides all over the city.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) supports food security for returning migrants and their opportunities to earn a living with, for example, cash assistance. Tens of thousands of people have already returned from Uganda to star over in life, says Moses Habib, humanitarian coordinator at FCA.
“We’ve supported returning families with cash, so in the beginning they’re able to buy food, repair their homes and cover the costs of their children’s schooling,” he tells.
For years the residents of Yei have persisted in the face of various threats. On top of war, there is disease. A poster on the wall of a centre that registers returning migrants encourages getting vaccinated against polio. South Sudan is one of the few countries in the world in which the disease has been resurgent in recent years.
Another poster explains the symptoms of ebola and emphasises the importance of hand hygiene in stopping its spread. It resembles a newer poster next to it, which explains how to avoid catching Covid-19.
The most significant consequences of the pandemic are linked to livelihood and education. Globally, the UN estimates that the pandemic has pushed tens of millions of families to the brink of extreme poverty.
“Teachers had to find other jobs for when the schools were closed, and many students have had to support their families by working. We’re concerned that some of them won’t come back,” says Habib.
School-related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, can be too expensive for a poor family.
Rose (right) and her classmate Vivian are lucky, because they had the opportunity to return to school.
Work instead of school
18-year-old Samuel Ayki toils away at a vegetable plot with his two brothers. It’s only been two weeks since the beanie-wearing young man returned to Yei. Samuel spent the early stages of the pandemic as a refugee in Uganda, where school closures lasted for 80 weeks, longer than anywhere else in the world. Because of the restrictions on movement, the local market at the refugee settlement was closed, and Samuel’s mother Mary lost her income. Samuel was due to finish comprehensive school in spring 2020 and now he’s supposed to study at upper secondary level.
“Covid ruined my schooling. It feels like my brain became blunt because I wasn’t able to learn anything new,” Samuel says.
In South Sudan, schools reopened in May 2021. When a friend of Samuel’s went back to school in Yei, he encouraged Samuel to return home. However, all related costs, such as learning materials and school uniforms, were such a huge expense for a poor family that Samuel couldn’t afford them. On top of this, the family needed the money Samuel was able to make doing odd jobs here and there.
Samuel plans to save money to return to school. Work is difficult to find, as he’s been away from the city for a long time and the pandemic has impoverished businesses. “I’m sad seeing my friends and neighbours go to school, when I’m just looking for work or sitting at home. Sometimes I try to study on my own using the notebooks I brought back with me from Uganda,” Samuel tells.
Peter, the friend of 18-year-old Samuel (right), goes to school. In Yei, students stand out because of their uniforms.
“Samuel buys food for his siblings with the money he’s saved for school. I feel sad seeing him go job hunting instead of school,” says Samuel’s mother Mary.
Rose is preparing for the first exam week in 18 months.
The schools in South Sudan were opened in May 2021. Rose and other students have their temperature taken and everyone must wear a mask.
Covid-19 puts girls’ schooling at risk
Having fewer and fewer opportunities for making a living has driven families to desperate decisions. Many girls have had to get married, because marriages benefit families financially.
Child marriages were a severe problem in South Sudan already prior to the pandemic; almost every other girl married underage, and now the number of child brides and teenage pregnancies has only gone up. Getting pregnant almost always means that the girl drops out of school, and the consequences are drastic when it comes to continuing education. Rose’s best friend didn’t return to the classroom when the schools reopened their doors.
“She decided to get married. Now she has a baby and can’t return to school. I don’t know what that means to her future, but I miss her,” Rose says.
Working as a grocer, uncle Woi Wilson’s livelihood has been dependent on the road running to the capital Juba and the neighbouring Uganda. Due to the pandemic, the traffic of goods slowed down, resulting in less income for sellers and higher prices for food. With the help of cash assistance from FCA, the family was able to buy food and support the continuation of the children’s schooling. After a long struggle, Rose is preparing for her first exam week in 18 months.
Many other enthusiastic students are waiting by the gates of St. Joseph’s School, where a guard takes their temperature and checks everyone is wearing a face mask. Fortunately, there’s one to spare for a girl who has left hers at home.
“At school I feel safe. Learning brightens my mind and give meaning to my days,” beams Rose.
Text: Erik Nyström Photos: Antti Yrjönen Translation: Anne Salomäki
Finn Church Aid (FCA) works in the most vulnerable communities in South Sudan, supporting the food security and livelihood opportunities for families. In autumn 2021, a programme was started to offer cash assistance to help children and adolescents who’ve returned from Uganda to cover the cost of their schooling. Comprehensive schools receive support in organising schooling. Emergency help is offered to disaster victims regardless of age, background or gender.
Quality vs Quantity: The challenge of providing education to refugees in Kenya
“The challenges are many.” It’s a phrase you hear often in East Africa and it rings especially true in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
CLOSE TO BORDERS of Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia, Kakuma has harboured refugees from neighbouring countries for almost thirty years. It was established when a group of children, the ‘Lost Boys’, arrived from Sudan in 1992. In that year, Ethiopians and Somalis also fled to the camp after political crisis in their countries.
Today, Kakuma and the surrounding areas hosts a mix of nationalities and over half of the population is under eighteen. They are well served by the 26 primary and secondary schools in and around the camp. Such is its reputation for education, that children will walk for days from South Sudan to Kakuma to attend school. In November last year, three quarters of the 3,000 children in the reception centres had travelled to Kakuma to enroll in school.
The Kenyan Government welcomes them as best they can. Refugees in Kakuma are given a plot of land and poles and plastic sheeting to build a basic shelter. In Kalobeyei, a settlement thirty kilometres from Kakuma, they can build permanent homes, but this is barely enough to protect them from temperatures that can reach over forty degrees celsius.
Kakuma is located in one of the driest parts of Kenya and those who live there, even the local population, are dependent upon aid. Every year, new residents arrive, stretching resources further and further. In Kalobeyei, recently arrived refugees live among the local population. Established in 2016, the settlement is a departure from the Kenya Government’s earlier policy which discouraged refugees from working and integrating into the local population. In Kalobeyei, refugees and Kenyans live, work and study together. This is where FCA works.
Refugees crowd into classrooms
We operate eight primary schools for Kenyan and refugee children with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. According to UNHCR, 77 percent of children aged 6-13 there attend school, almost on par with the national average of 80 percent. But the number of students is ever increasing and challenges of operating crowded classrooms is no more evident than in Kalobeyei.
When school starts at 8am the temperature is already over thirty degrees Celsius. The air is full of dust and the shouts and laughter of children emanate from the classrooms. Inside the large, corrugated steel buildings, children are crammed four or five to a desk, overflowing onto the floor. Each class has at least one hundred students, some classes, close to two hundred.
Martin Albino Ayyiro was was a teacher in Torit, South Sudan, for twenty-five years, before conflict forced him to flee to Kenya. In South Sudan, his classes had a maximum of sixty students.
He now teaches at Future Bright Primary School and says,
“You cannot control the situation of the classroom because you don’t know who understands you and who doesn’t understand you,” says Ayyiro.
Teachers struggle to educate
In his classroom in Kalobeyei, Ayyiro often struggles to teach his students.
“… some children are very difficult, or they have problems. Maybe a child cannot come to school or can come irregular or (they) can come late to school. So, sometimes, maybe they are sleeping in the class,” he says.
Most of the refugees in Kalobeyei are also from Torit and, as a member of this community, Ayyiro not only speaks their native language, but often knows the parents, so he will make home visits . As a refugee teacher, he is not qualified in Kenya and so is paid as a volunteer (53EURO per month) in addition to the aid he receives as a refugee. Although he faces significant challenges, there are shared by everyone who works in the program.
Richard Tsalwa is FCA’s Project Coordinator in Kalobeyei and one of the first things you notice about Tsalwa is his eyes. They are kind, but tired. He oversees eight primary schools, 231 teachers and 21,000 students. He often talks about retiring to Kakamega, in Western Kenya, where he is from.
When Tsalwa began studying education, he was guaranteed a job. But by the time he graduated (1998) the Kenyan Government had stopped employing teachers because of a World Bank structural adjustment.
“We were the first class not to be posted. We all went into other jobs – some are bankers, some are businessmen. Some Kenyan teachers spend many years unemployed – up to ten years,” says Tsalwa.
When it comes to education, Tsalwa has seen it all. He has been a humanitarian for fifteen years and has worked in Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Sri Lanka and, for the last three years, in Kakuma for FCA. “We have seen education changing the lives of these refugees,” Tsalwa says.
Giving every child an education is simple in theory, but in practice, ‘the challenges are many’, especially among refugee populations. Sustainable Development Goal number four is to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. The reality is that there is no single organisation or authority responsible for this. In Kakuma, the responsibility for primary and secondary education for refugees lies with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), however their primary mandate is protection, not education.
Funding cuts mean more students per teacher
Funding cuts in the aid sector mean that FCA has less money to pay teachers in 2022 – funds for next year are 40% less than in 2021 which means less teachers or smaller salaries.. “… if you reduce the teachers, the number of learners is increasing – there are new ones coming in … Right now we have a gap of 35 teachers and … we can only absorb (pay) these teachers just for six months,” says Tsalwa.
Beside teacher salaries, there are other costs of running a school such as teaching and learning materials, equipping children with special needs, supporting teenage mothers. The World Food Program funds school meals which for some children, is their only meal of the day.
As little funding as there is for primary education, there is even less for secondary. This results in high dropout rates. Among refugees aged from 14-17, only five percent attend school. This is lower than the rate in Turkhana County (nine percent) where Kalobeyei is located and well below the 38 percent national average.
FCA training refugees to teach
With so few refugees finishing high school very few are qualified to become teachers, but this is something that FCA is trying to address by providing scholarships to refugees to attend a new teacher training college close to Kakuma. Funded by UNHCR, the college has the capacity for one hundred students, and Mawut Wwor Chol is one of the first to attend lectures there. Originally from Ethiopia, Chol started studying at the college in October, but his journey to get there epitomises the challenges that refugees face.
Chol started Secondary School in 2011 and, due to ‘issues’, had to repeat his first class. During his exams for his school certificate the camp was ‘in a mess’. “There was infighting among the refugees. There was a fighting that messed up the camp and there was insecurity … I had sleepless nights. I would be watching from seven in the evening up to the daybreak and then I went to write the exam until I completed,” says Chol.
He failed his exams. “That made me bitter,” he says. Determined, he decided to repeat and was offered a scholarship at a school in Kitale, a large town in Western Kenya. This time he passed, but it still took him another year to find a job as a teacher in Kakuma. When he finally did, he seized every educational opportunity that came his way and has even completed a course with Regis University in the United States in March 2021. “Instead of going to Nairobi University or anywhere there, we are trying to get it piece by piece, so that we join the educated world,” says Chol.
If the challenges for men like Chol are many, the challenges for women are even more. The few who complete secondary school have very low grades, so finding qualified female teachers is very difficult.
“At ECD (early childhood development) the ratio is fifty-fifty, boys to girls. As you go up the grades, the ration decreases to about a third of girls in the classrooms. They leave school for many reasons – domestic work, looking after other children, pregnancy and early marriage,” says Tsalwa.
Women face more challenges
These challenges are something that Roda Daniel knows well. A refugee from Sudan, she fled to Kenya, alone, after primary school. Girls like her are particularly vulnerable, and so she was enrolled in an all-girls boarding school. This helped her to focus on her studies and she graduated and became a teacher. Now, she is the deputy head teacher at Morning Star Primary School (which is supported by FCA) and is one of the first students to study at the teacher training centre.
“Going to school from very early in the morning and coming out from here 5-5.30 you reach home six. With some females, like the lactating mothers, it becomes a challenge. What we came to realise, when the few were shortlisted, it was a qualification thing that meant most of females were not selected. Though many of us hoped to have this course, now, very few, very few are picked because of the qualifications,” says Daniel.
Despite affirmative action, that recognises experience instead of qualifications, Daniel was only one of ten female students out of sixty in the first intake at the college. Those who were ‘picked’ realise how lucky they are. When you walk into the lecture hall of the training college there is a palpable feeling of optimism. Although this might be said of any group of young hopefuls, but it is amplified by the challenges that these students have had overcome to make it here. “You see the hunger for education, especially among the South Sudanese,” says Dennis Wamalwa, the lecturer.
The education diploma offered at the Teacher Training College is a compressed course that takes just over a year, whereas a diploma in a public university takes between two and two and a half years. At the college, students learn onsite and online and the first intake should graduate in December next year.
Tsalwa is hopeful that the training college will improve the standard of education and teaching in Kakuma. “I hope to see well trained teachers (in 2022) who will definitely boost the quality of teaching and learning in our schools
… when we talk of quality, you can only talk of quality when you have trained teachers to deliver the curriculum,” says Tsalwa.
Tsalwa is also a realist and knows that once the refugees are qualified, they may leave teaching for other opportunities. He says that “… if you graduate in Kenya with a primary school certificate, you are well-qualified if you go back to South Sudan.”
“When you train them well, they get other jobs, because they don’t like teaching. They do it because they don’t have any other choice, so we have a high turnover of teachers,” he says. There is very little that can be done about this. Tsalwa knows himself how stressful teaching is even when they aren’t dealing with over a hundred students. Chol acknowledges this also, “I think it (the course) is a gateway for another opportunity.”
But Roda Daniel is different and illustrates why it is important to create opportunities for women. “With my mindset, I am still just within Kenya. And after graduating I will still see ahead if I will really get an opportunity to do a degree. Meanwhile (it is) still best teaching or supporting our community.”
Somaliland tailoring students graduate with flair in their homemade gowns
The students, majority of them women, accepted their qualifications in professional tailoring and garment design.
70 PROUD WOMEN and men graduated from our latest vocational training course in Somaliland in early December. The students, majority of them women, accepted their qualifications in professional tailoring and garment design at a ceremony in Maansoor, as their friends and family watched.
The course was part of a vocational training project funded by FCA and implemented by the General Assistance and Volunteer Organization (GAVO) and the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOVO).
Suhur Yusuf, a young and talented graduate, spoke about how the course changed her life, sporting her handmade gown.
“On the day of my university graduation, I nearly spent USD 200 on the graduation outfit, but today I spent just USD 10 on the dress, which I tailored with my own hands. ”
Every student tailored their own gown in an incredible display of how much they’d learned on the course.
“Aside from these stunning dresses, what strikes me is how you blended colors to create a really attractive ensemble, demonstrating how our efforts are fruitful,” said Sahra-Kiin, an FCA representative.
Sustainable livelihood skills for the future
In addition to the students’ families and friends, the ceremony was attended by high level guests, such as Abdirashid Ibrahim, Director of Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs.
“I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Finnish government, which is not only sponsoring this project but also many other development initiatives to support the Somaliland Government’s Development Plans, ” he said.
Also in attendance were Ahmed Omar and Abdillahi Hassan, Executive Directors from GAVO and HAVOYOCO, who welcomed guests and explained to the audience the unique nature of this particular course wasn’t confined to the beautiful garments on display. They celebrated that an outstanding 46 students working in 12 groups had been chosen for start-up grants, while the others receive toolkits to help with their own businesses.
Finally Qani Abdi, a representative of the Somaliland private sector discussed the importance of tailoring skills and gave a taste of how the graduates could turn their skills into a profitable business in the future. “I am impressed by the designs you have displayed. That tells the advanced training you have received. ”
Education is an assurance of future for refugee girls
Finn Church Aid (FCA) promotes access to quality education, particularly for girls and young women in Uganda’s refugee settlements.
EDUCATION IS A HUMAN RIGHT. It is essential to the acquisition of knowledge. More than that, education makes us more resilient and independent individuals. Finn Church Aid (FCA) promotes access to quality education, particularly for girls and young women in Uganda’s refugee settlements.
Education can have a life-changing consequences for girls especially. Girls like Anthias Poni Oliver. When violence broke out in her homeland, Anthias and her family were among thousands of South Sudanese who escaped to Uganda in search of safety and peace. Anthias lives in Palorinya refugee settlement in Moyo District, Uganda.
However, like so many girls with refugee background, it has been a struggle for Anthias to stay in school. While still in secondary school, she got pregnant and had to drop out of school for a while.
“Anthias’ father refused to take her back to school after finding out she got pregnant and had terminated the pregnancy. He told her to stay home and forget about school,” says Juru Cicilia, Anthias’ mother.
“I was sad because I loved school and knew I would not be able to complete my studies,” says Anthias herself.
Helping refugee girls stay in school
Education equips girls like Anthias with the skills they need to unlock their potential. Finn Church Aid ensures safe, inclusive schools with quality teaching for everyone with support from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrations (PRM). FCA creates safe, environmentally friendly learning environments and school structures.
“With the support of Finn Church Aid, I was enrolled in Idiwa secondary school to complete my studies. My favourite subjects are Christian religious education and mathematics,” Anthias adds.
Making a study plan and managing her schedules, a skill she learned during a career guidance session, made her improve on her studies and catch up on lost time.
“Before I used to only read my books at school, but now I revise at home especially on weekends. This has really improved my learning.”
“They also give me school materials, soap and menstrual hygiene kits, and during the reproductive health lessons they teach us how to use the menstrual kits.”
Dreaming of future
Education is important to Anthias because it will create employment opportunities for her in the future. She hopes to be a doctor when she finishes school.
“I have seen many people in my area self-medicating and some have ended up dying. I want to become a doctor so I can be able to give them proper treatment,” she says.
Anthias’s inspiration is Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s wife.
“She was very hard working and never lost hope even when the husband was in prison. I hope to be like her.”
Education Programme Launched to Support Children in Refugee and Host Communities In Uganda
As children in Uganda remain out of school, the Uganda Education Consortium, the European Union Humanitarian Aid and the Government of Uganda, are working together to implement the Education Response Plan for refugees and host communities, and support equitable access to education in refugee and host communities.
The Uganda Education Consortium, together with the European Union and the Government of Uganda, have launched the second phase of the INCLUDE initiative (Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education programme) for refugees and the host communities. This consortium will support children in refugee and host communities to access safe, quality and inclusive learning opportunities, support safe return to school and ensure the psycho-social well-being of learners.
Fifteen million children in Uganda have been affected by COVID 19 related school closures. This includes at least 600,000 primary and secondary aged refugee learners. More than 275,000 out of school primary and secondary school aged children have also been affected. The uncertainty caused by the pandemic and prolonged periods of absence from school will increase the likelihood that children will not return to school when they open.
INCLUDE will respond to the current context over a period of 21 months in Kyaka 11, Kyangwali, Nakivale Imvepi and Rhino Camp refugee settlements. Through the project, the consortium will work closely with the Ministry of Education and Sports, the office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and communities to ensure that all children can return to school as soon as possible in a safe manner. This will be achieved by prioritising the provision of additional safe learning spaces, recruitment of additional teachers and the expansion of the double shift approach while preparing for schools to reopen, as foreseen by the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Health’s Standard Operating Procedures.
Better access to remote learning opportunities
The INCLUDE consortium will ensure safe, equitable and inclusive access to remote learning opportunities, including through innovative approaches such as Can’t Wait To Learn and, thereby, contribute to continuity of learning. The project will help ensure that children who often miss out on school are supported through activities that focus on their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, support to children with disabilities and young mothers, and cash for education transfers that remove social economic barriers access.
“The EU is proud to renew its engagement in the Ugandan refugee education sector through Phase 2 of the INCLUDE programme. This project will contribute to increased safe access to quality education to out of school children living in refugee hosting areas, improving their wellbeing. Every year, the EU allocates up to 10% of its global humanitarian budget to education projects around the world.” Said Bruno Rotival, Head of the EU’s Humanitarian Aid Office in Uganda.
Education protects children from poverty, violence and abuse and helps them laugh, learn, eat, play and grow. For this reason, the Education Consortium and its partners believe that education cannot wait and look forward to enabling children in refugee and host communities to continue their education.
The Education Consortium led by Save the Children, has 15 members who implement projects, funded by ECHO and Education Cannot Wait, that contribute to the implementation of the Education Response Plan(ERP) for refugees and host communities. The ERP is the first of its kind worldwide and was developed to help respond to the huge needs in what is Africa’s biggest refugee education crisis.
About the INCLUDE project and the Uganda Education Consortium
INCLUDE will be implemented by Save the Children, Finn Church Aid, Nowergian Refugee Council, War Child Holland and Humanity and Inclusion, under the leadership of the Uganda Education Consortium Management unit. Partners will work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Unites Nations High Commission for Refugees and the district governments.
The project is supported with generous funding of EUR 7,000,000 from the EU.
Girls’ education gains ground in Somalia’s hard-to-reach area
Five thousand learners enrolled in school in Hudur in one of the first education interventions in the area, supported by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). Almost half of the learners were girls.
Parents in Somalia’s rural areas have traditionally not valued education, and if the opportunity exists, families typically send only their boys to school. As a result, the interventions in the education sector were few when FCA launched its program in six schools in Hudur in June 2020.
FCA started implementing the education project funded by EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) by launching mass awareness-raising campaigns on the importance of education. In addition, community meetings and the forming of local education committees increased the engagement of people.
Child marriage is one of the most significant barriers to girls’ education in areas such as Hudur. Becoming a caretaker of the family and a mother can end their chances of progressing at school.
Poverty is another obstacle to sending children to school. However, within this program, education is free, and the quality of learning is ensured through teacher training and quality learning materials. As a result, the project reached its goal of enrolling five thousand learners. The learners include 2,387 girls, almost half of the total. To keep girls in school during menstruation, 806 girls received monthly sanitary kits. In addition, older boys and girls were given gender-sensitive recreational materials.
Muna Mohamed Haydar, 17, washes her hands outside the school. She says, “My teachers are good and teach well. Math is my favorite subject because I enjoy doing calculations. It is important for us to attend school. Education will help us build a bright future.”
Teacher Lul Mohamed Nur is responsible for the protection and safety of the students. She encourages girls to receive good education. Today, the number of girls is higher than the number of boys in my school. She tells that, “we have achieved this after conducting relentless awareness in the neighborhood, telling families the importance of sending their girls to schools. We give special attention to learners with disabilities. They are often allocated seats at the front of the classroom.”
Hawa Isak Warsame, 16, tells, “my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my school fees but since it is free and they give us uniforms and other learning materials. I am keen to take advantage of this opportunity to educate myself.” Her favourite subject is English and she would like to work for a humanitarian organisation in the future. She also praises the safety of the school: “If one of the learners feel threatened they can submit their complaint into the box FCA has brought us. This really given me and my classmates a strong sense of safety.”
Suleqo Hassan Adan, 10, tells, “I like math because it is easy for me. I want to become a well-known engineer and rebuild my country or a teacher to help those in need in the community.” She also has a strong opinion about equality: “Education is important for everyone whether be it a boy or a girl. Parents must give equal opportunity to their children.”
Hamaro Mohamed Nur is Suleqo’s mother. “My daughter has been attending the school for a year. I always encourage her to go to the school and learn something. At first she used to resist but now she got used to it and she likes going to the school. Her interest has increased since she received uniform and learning materials. She has a lot of energy for her books now. My daughter is a child with special needs, she cannot see well due to her albinism. She told me the teachers make her sit next to the blackboard so that she sees what is written on the board. She really likes her teachers.”
Mohamed Hassan Abdirahman teaches English to internally displaced pupils. “I was motivated by the need of my community. There was no school in the area before we came up with the idea of establishing this learning center. All of the children here were out of school, so I decided to take action along with like-minded friends. As for the learners with disabilities, we pay special attention to them. We try to listen their demands and protect them from bullying. Safety and protection of the students is of high priority for us” and adds that it can protect girls from early marriages.
Zainab Abdullahi Ahmed, 10, goes to school for accelerated basic education (ABE) and says that she enjoys learning new things. “My teachers help me a lot. I don’t feel any problems attending the classes.” She also wants to help others in the future: “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor.”
Maryan Warsame tells that her child has been attending the school for five years. She says that, “as a parent, I am grateful for helping to educate my daughter. Here we consider teachers as second parents and indeed they are second parents because they treat our kids as their own.” She tells that, “I have both daughters and sons and I send all of them to school, but I am more confident in my daughters. An educated girl will always be helpful to her parent.”
Bashir Moallin Mohamed, 18, says he is very ambitious about his education. He praises the teacher for being kind and highly qualified. “English is my favorite subject because I am good at the grammar. I hope to speak good English soon. I want to become a teacher like my teachers and educate the the people in need in the community.”