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Uganda, 8 March 2012: Reaching the vulnerable Ik community of Uganda’s Karamoja region

© UNICEF Uganda/2012/Sibiloni
Primary school children from the Ik minority group in Uganda receive lunch through a school feeding programme.

By Anne Lydia Sekandi

KARAMOJA REGION, Uganda, 8 March 2012 – Magdalena, 12, is eager to go to school. She dreams of becoming a nurse or a doctor one day, to serve her people when she grows up.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Karin Bridger reports on UNICEF's work with the remote Ik community of Uganda.  Watch in RealPlayer

“I’ll make sure that I can treat people and give them medicine so they can feel better,” she said.

Magdalena belongs to the Ik community, a small minority ethnic group in the mountains of Karamoja, northeastern Uganda. They live in several small villages after having been displaced when their land was converted into part of a national park.

“I’ll make sure that I can treat people and give them medicine so they can feel better,” Magdalena says. Magdalena knows she can achieve her dream since she goes to the nearby primary school at Usake – part of a suite of programmes aimed to help her remote and marginalized community.

Needed services

UNICEF is supporting the construction of the new primary school, providing a much-needed opportunity for the community’s children to receive an education. Two classrooms, with nearby latrines, have been built, and two more classrooms are under construction.

© UNICEF Uganda/2012/Sibiloni
Students from the Ik minority group attend school in Kaboong District. The Ik are among several ethnic groups displaced from their land to create a national park.

Enrolment has not been a problem for the new school, but retaining the children remains a challenge. In 2011, for instance, 620 children enrolled for primary one through primary three classes, but only half of them attended school.

But a UN school feeding programme aims to give children an incentive to stay in school.

“The UN has been supporting the school feeding programme in Karamoja. It’s another way of mobilizing school children, [otherwise] these children don’t come to school,” District Inspector of Schools Hillary Salopeo said.

A new health centre has also been built in Usake. It serves five nearby villages, bringing basic services closer to the community.

According to District Health Officer James Lokepe, both the health centre and school are a welcome development that will help save lives.

“When we go back the way they were, without the health facility, without the school, most of them could not be in school – most of them could be dying,” Mr. Lokepe said.

Protecting vulnerable children

Violence against women and children is also a problem within the Ik community.

UNICEF has addressed this issue by establishing Child Protection Committees, groups that educate community members about issues such as the dangers of early marriage and sexual exploitation. The committees also act as referrals to legal services, and coordinate with War Child UK, a partner NGO.

UNICEF’s programmes are part of a larger response by UN agencies working to ‘deliver as one’, a holistic approach to assisting vulnerable groups.

Magdalena understands the importance of the new programmes in her community.

“It is very important to go to school to acquire knowledge,” she said. “It is very important to go to school, to render a service to the community, and empower them.”

 

 
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