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Uganda, 12 March 2010: ‘Beyond School Books’ – a podcast series on education in emergencies

© Polaris/2009/Shames
Ugandan student Nokrach, 16, shared his experience during an interview at the UN Radio studio in New York.
By Pi James

NEW YORK, USA, 12 March 2010 – This year, UNICEF’s flagship Humanitarian Action Report – launched in February – estimates that at least 1.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Uganda due to droughts, flooding, internal displacement and the return of at least 300,000 Ugandans following the cessation of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) activities.

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Other UNICEF figures reveal that nearly half of Uganda’s estimated 2.5 million orphans have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Experts estimate that the LRA has abducted more than 25,000 children since 1986.

UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with two Ugandan students – Sanyu, 14, who was orphaned by AIDS, and Nokrach, 16, a former child soldier – about their experiences and the ways in which education has transformed their lives.

‘Maybe I’d be dead’

After losing both of her parents to AIDS when she was very young, Sanyu had to drop out of school to take care of her younger sister and brother. She worked when she could, collecting firewood or washing peoples clothes, to make enough money to feed her siblings.

But then Sanyu met US photographer Steven Shames, who heads the non-governmental organization LEAD Uganda – an educational leadership initiative for children affected by AIDS, war and poverty. With the support of the organization, Sanyu now attends one of the country's top high schools.

UNICEF asked Sanyu what she thought would have happened if she hadn’t become involved with LEAD Uganda.

© Polaris/2009/Shames
Sanyu, 14, was orphaned by AIDS and became the head of her family in Uganda.
“I don’t know,” she replied slowly. “Maybe I’d be dead.”

Becoming leaders

Nokrach said he was only seven when rebel soldiers abducted him and forced him to fight in Uganda’s civil war. After fleeing the conflict, he also became involved with LEAD Uganda. He is now attending school, which he said has improved his confidence.

“I can lead my friends and lead the country,” he said. “I think I have the courage and leadership skills… I believe I can make it.”

Sanyu added that education cannot be taken for granted. “Education,” he said, “is how you can achieve your dreams and your goals. I aspire to be a doctor... I want to fight AIDS, that takes the life of many in my country.”



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