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Children map a brighter future for schoolgirls in Uganda

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A young girl works hard on her studies in Uganda. Dropout rates remain high in the country, especially for girls.

KAMPALA, Uganda, 13 May 2005 – As the 2005 target for gender parity in primary and secondary education comes due, children across Uganda are busily charting their nation’s progress toward education for all.

Through ‘school mapping’ exercises, children document the number of girls in their community, the number of girls out of school, and the barriers that prevent girls from getting an education. The young cartographers then identify workable solutions that will enable girls to enrol in and attend school successfully.

The mapping exercises are part of a strategy developed by the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM), a grassroots initiative active in countries throughout Africa and officially launched in Uganda in 2001. Supported by UNICEF, Forum for African Woman Educationalists (FAWE) and other partners in the African Girls’ Education Initiative and the Global Movement for Children, GEM clubs work to empower girls through education and to sensitize communities on the importance of sending every child to school.

Maps created by students in the GEM clubs show village boundaries and local landmarks. More ominously, they also depict outbreaks of conflict; impenetrable roads, lakes and swamps; inadequate sanitation; long distances between homes and schools; and markets where girls are compelled to work in order to support their families.

In response to these challenges, participants suggest straightforward solutions: build a bridge; fence the school; cut down bushes to make roads safe and passable. Boys volunteer to walk girls to school so they will not have to make a dangerous journey alone. Girls and boys together construct and maintain clean latrines.

Each map includes the estimated number of girls and boys in the area who are both in and out of school. Student teams follow the maps to homes where children are not attending school, often raising money on their own to provide school supplies for those who cannot afford them.

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A member of the Girls' Education Movement club at Kyengere Primary School explains the club's mission.

Primary school enrolment in Uganda has skyrocketed since the implementation of Universal Primary Education, rising from 2.6 million children in 1997 to 7 million in 2003. But dropout rates remain unacceptably high, especially for girls. At the secondary level there are fewer than four girls enrolled for every five boys.

The mapping exercises complement other GEM projects that work to keep girls in school, such as community discussion groups, HIV/AIDS awareness-raising sessions, classes in hygiene and life skills, and dramatic performances that highlight issues in girls’ education. Other young people’s organizations, such as the YWCA and the Girl Guides, are joining GEM training exercises to help extend services to areas where GEM clubs are not yet in place.

The results have been immediate. In Gyenda Primary School in Masaka District, fifty girls came back to school after just three months of a GEM club’s activities. At neighboring Nakateete Primary School, girls’ enrolment rose nearly 25 per cent after a GEM club was introduced in 2002.

The mapping exercises have also proven to be a potent political tool. In Mbarara District, data generated from children’s maps have been used in presentations to government officials. And in communities all over Uganda, children’s efforts to identify their out-of-school peers are helping to direct interventions by Local Councils and school authorities.

By focusing on those who are ‘hardest to reach’, the GEM clubs are building a community of children who will in turn broaden awareness where it is most needed.

As Sylvia Nankuze, a 13-year-old student who left school after the third grade, says, “Without GEM, I would have missed the precious chance of studying. Many pupils out of school are not happy.” Now back in school thanks to the efforts of GEM club members who visited her parents and offered to provide school supplies, Sylvia adds, “GEM should go on and help many more girls out there!”



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