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Refugee community schools provide children with an opportunity to learn

By Rebecca Vassie

An estimated 90,000 South Sudanese have made their way into Uganda through Adjumani district since December 2013, with 22,000 settling in Nyumazi Refugee Settlement. 60 percent of these are children of school going age.

Fleeing internal conflict, the young children sought an education. Mirieyi Primary School, the only government primary school within the boundaries is catering to children of the local community along with a number of refugees who were already in the camp. The school is already overcrowded and administrators are struggling to cope with the huge influx of the new children.

Mr. Gabriel Makuach, a career teacher who has lost count of the number of times he has had to flee South Sudan and settle in refugee camps, had an idea for the concerned parents. He came up with a suggestion of forming free community schools on un-used land within the settlement, asking teachers from the refugee community to voluntarily teach the children.

The logic was that it would solve the problem of the lack of space for learning, create an occupation for a section of the refugee community and also reduce the congestion in the government schools.

St. Egidio was the first community school that was set up in Nyumazi Refugee Settlement. Through combined effort, parents cleared the land on which the school now stands, while others dug pit latrines. Teachers agreed to volunteer, under the stewardship of Mr. Makuach as head teacher who says "I was educated under a tree, there is no reason you can not learn amongst the elements if that is all you have."

Today approximately 725 South Sudanese children learn under the mango trees at St. Egidio. Another seven community schools have been established in different densely populated parts of the camp. They cater for children between Primary one and Primary three, all who would otherwise be squeezing in the crowded government school or sitting at home missing out on their education.

The volunteer teachers from South Sudan take the children through the Ugandan curriculum which is similar to the one they were studying in South Sudan.

UNICEF through its Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) initiative has, since the influx, began supporting education within the camp by funding gated playground spaces for children as well as preschool education for children up to 6 years old.

UNICEF has also provided scholastic materials and temporary structures like the tents, which are serving as classrooms and hygienic latrines. The organization also ensures the pupils and teachers have access to safe drinking water through sinking boreholes within the school grounds.

St. Egidio, which was little more than bush earlier in the year, now has three tents, a borehole and a latrine block. The school continues to admit children day by day, with sustained support of UNICEF and their implementing partners.

Mr. Makuach is all smiles seeing the children turn up every morning ready for a day of learning and the now 11 teachers ready to teach them.

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