Accelerated Education Program is Transforming Lives of Refugees and Host Community Learners

Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa, an estimated 1.45 million people of whom 60% are children.

The implication is that thousands of children from refugee and host communities are not in school. For those who can attend, the quality of education is poor with overcrowded class rooms.  In addition, multiple different languages are spoken in the same classroom. Literacy and numeracy levels are well below expected standards making it difficult for children to learn effectively.  The tough conditions mean that large numbers of children drop out of school early, abandoning their education and reducing their opportunities in life.

Lakica Monica, 20-year-old Ugandan dropped out of school in 2019 when she got pregnant. At the time, she was in senior three. Lakica stayed home for quite some time and was doing nothing. “I had a lot of challenges with my parents then and they were not supporting me when I gave birth,” she says.

Amidst all the challenges, Lakica was able to enroll back to school in 2023 and is currently in level two. “I got the information about free access to education through Equitable Access to Quality and Transformational Education for Refugee and Host Communities (EQUATE) Project from a friend at our centre Paluda in Palabek Refugee Settlement. He told me about the opportunity for young mothers like me to go back to school. That is how I managed to join Paluda Secondary School which is supporting over 100 young people who dropped out of school but are willing to rejoin with no limitations or restrictions,”

The EQUATE project is funded by European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) and aims at increasing access to equitable and inclusive quality education for conflict affected children in in Rhino Camp, Imvepi and Palabek refugee settlements in West Nile Sub-Region of Uganda. It is implemented by Windle International Uganda, World Vision and two local organisations, namely; Rural Initiative for Community Empowerment – West Nile (RICE- West Nile) and Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD).

The project specifically; addresses barriers that prevent most vulnerable out of school children from enrolling in formal and non-formal education programmes at both primary and secondary levels.

Lakica is among the beneficiaries of the project. “I am getting a lot of knowledge. The project has supported me with some money to help me and my child at home. They are paying for my school fees and I am very happy about that,” she says.  Adding, “Through this project, I am getting good support from teachers. It also promotes good skills through the project work we do including getting good advice from the teachers and fellow learners.”

Lakica says her life has changed tremendously ever since she rejoined school. “I left all the wrong decisions and things I used to do. I am now into learning and working towards achieving my dream. I am currently in school and getting new knowledge. I also encourage my friends to return back to school,” she says.

Besides learning, Lakica has gained new skills like make liquid soap which she learnt through project work. She can make between 5 to 10 litres of liquid soap which she sells for approximately 15,000 shs. She says the money from selling the soap helps her feed herself and her child.

She wants to become a nurse in future and this is motivating her to work hard in school, read and perform better in her examinations. She admires people who work and this is one of the reasons she rejoined school. “When I see people who go to work, I want to be like them,” she says.

Lakica is grateful to Windle International Uganda and the EQUATE project. “I thank EQUATE because before I joined Accelerated Education Program, I was ignorant about many things. But my life and knowledge has now improved,” Lakica noted.

Just like Lakica, Abraham Jowang, 24-year-old South Sudanese refugee residing in Palabek Refugee Settlement is among the beneficiaries of the project. He completed primary Seven in 2019 with little hope of moving to the next level and this was even made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Abraham dropped out of school because his parents did not have money to support him continue to the next level of education. However, in 2022 while chatting with a friend who had enrolled in Paluda Secondary School, he was told about the accelerated education program. By then, he was based in Adjumani Refugee Settlement. He however moved to Palabek refugee settlement because of his desire to advance in his education.

“I moved from Adjumani to Palabek Refugee Settlement to register. I was assessed and was able to join school in term three in 2022,” Abraham notes. He joined in level one and is currently in level two.

Abraham says he has got support from the ECHO-EQUATE project including scholastic materials such as books and pens. Abraham is also happy for the completed classroom block which was built for them and is certain it will improve learning and encourage other people in the community to join school.

“The project has helped me stay in school. I also get support and guidance from my teachers and fellow learners. WIU also encourages us to perform better and this gives us hope of becoming better people in future,” he noted. Adding, “I don’t intend to drop out of school because learning is free.”

Besides the scholastic materials, Abraham notes that he also received financial support amounting to 22,000 shs which he used to buy uniform and school bag. “I am now feeling comfortable and happy because of being at school.”

The only challenge Abraham notes is the distance to the school and urged EQUATE to extend the AEP closer to the communities.

Abraham says that when finishes school, he hopes that one day he will be the president of South Sudan. He wants to go and change the lives of people in his community back home.

Another of the project beneficiary is Lena Stephen, a 19-year-old refugee in Palabek refugee settlement. She wants to make a difference in her community. Lena dropped out of school in 2020 after getting pregnant.

“I was in senior one by then. It was for a fellow student who also dropped out of school and went back to South Sudan,” she says. Lena says life has been difficult having to take care of herself and her 2 old child because he never receives any support from the boy who made her pregnant.

When Lena had about the EQUATE project and the support they were giving to people like her to get back to school, she immediately knew this was the time to rediscover herself.

“I came back to school because I want to be somewhere different and be a better person. I got the information about ECHO-EQUATE from someone within our block and I decided to come back and join,” she say.

Lena notes she is now happy because she gets to interact with other learners and the learning is progressing so well. She notes that the project is even constructing a shed for mothers with young children to breastfeed which is so good.

She revealed the project got for them good teachers which has made learning enjoyable. “I also received 22,000 Ugx from project which I plan to buy a uniform and pay PTA and any balance I will use to buy something for my child,” Lena says.

Lena wants to be a nurse in future so that she can support herself, her child, friends and the community.

Compiled by: Okwera John Oola and Joseph Waninda

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