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UNICEF-supported “Go-Back-to-School” efforts help girl dropout’s return to school

By Proscovia N. Mbonye and Sammy Poro – Gulu district

Apiyo is a 15-year old girl from Gulu who loves school, and dreams of becoming a nurse when she grows up.  Her favorite subjects are Science, Mathematics and English. She loves solving equations.

“I want to work in our health centre because there are very few health workers whenever we visit. We always have to wait for long hours before we receive treatment,” she says.

But Apiyo’s journey through school has not been an easy one. Apiyo Like many children across Uganda, Apiyo has experienced, firsthand, the pain associated with losing parents to AIDS.  She was orphaned at a very early age. Though she misses her parents’ love, Apiyo has firmly pushed onward to fulfill her dreams – all the while wearing a huge smile regardless of her situation.

After completing a full course of primary education, Apiyo hopes to join Sacred Heart Gulu Secondary School, one of the best schools in Gulu District.  She, however, worries whether her uncle and guardian will be able to meet her school fees given his modest income and host of other dependents.

The concern about fees is a deep one.  Last year, Apiyo stayed at home because her uncle could not afford the fees, with priority going to her cousins joining secondary school.

During the time Apiyo was out of school, UNICEF launched a ‘Go Back to School’ campaign in her home area, Gulu.  Her school was listed as one of those with a high dropout rate and as a result, all children that had left school at the time, including Apiyo, were identified and registered. Through sensitization efforts, parents and caretakers of these children learned more about the benefits of a full course of education and were encouraged to take their children back to school, and to ensure that they stayed in school.

More UNICEF support went to renovating a classroom block as well as building separate girls’ latrines to ensure female students had proper sanitation facilities and felt safe enough to stay in school.  With the provision of a separate girls’ latrine, Apiyo and the other girls in her school could continue with school during their menstruation periods since they had a facility which provided them with the privacy to wash and change.

The successful “Go-Back-to-School” campaign touched Apiyo’s life when her uncle with whom she has lived since the age of seven sent her back to school.

“I was overjoyed when my uncle told me that I was resuming school,” she beamed.  

Now that she is back in school, Apiyo’s day begins at six o’clock with a prayer in the small hut that she shares with her younger sister. The two girls then get ready and walk for 30 minutes to Gwandiya Primary School where Apiyo attends Primary Seven, the final class of primary schooling.  Her class comprises 37 pupils with only two girls.

Today, she remains on the path to her dreams. When she’s not busy with school work, Apiyo enjoys reading and usually requests her uncle to bring her old newspapers to improve her reading skills. She loves women’s football, commonly known as ‘Girl kick it’, and at home, she plays with her sister and cousins during her free time.

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