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SS Refugee Crisis Blog 6: Reflection from Reninca - Education

For those who don’t know me, most of my working career I’ve been a teacher. When we lived in Haiti, education really fascinated me, and now here in Uganda to, with all the South Sudanese refugees. In both countries, there is no moaning about having to go to school. It’s a privilege and honor and something to work hard at.

In Haiti, we’ve been indirectly impacting education over the last few years, through the amazing work Rhiannon and others have done on the UN solar street light projects, meaning kids can study under solar lights at night. Here in Uganda, it’s been an area that’s consistently been raised as one of the most urgent needs by parents, community leaders and organisations like UNHCR. Only 25% of South Sudanese children go to school, the worst statistic for a country in the WORLD. In fact, one 2015 UNICEF report said that a 15 year old girl in South Sudan has more chance of dying during pregnancy than completing education.

For those do have the privilege to go to school, the conditions are mind blowing…We visited a primary school in one camp where I saw 400 kids under a tree. Trying to manage behavior and learning, alongside teachers trying to mark hundreds of books with huge class sizes was unbelievable. But these kids and the teachers wanted to be there and wanted to learn. Just with no resources, no buildings, no textbooks, nothing. Children bring their own chairs from home or just sit on the dirt. The teachers aren’t getting paid, just volunteering. They celebrate even when they receive just a small box of chalk.

We then visited a secondary school, taking place in an old, derelict school that had been built as a school years ago, but since been left derelict with all the windows, doors, some roofing taken. The classes were heaving and teachers were struggling to teach with no resources. Trying to teach complicated information with no resources is a massive struggle.

Teachers are teaching in rooms with graffiti and obscenities all across the walls from when this was empty and vandalized…including some of the harrowing images of war Carwyn pictured on his trip in March when using this school was just a dream. There is a great vision though to bring this school up to standard with 13 subjects being taught and high quality education.  HHA gave some small seed funding to the Baptist Convention of South Sudan to help get this school up and running a few months back and are keen to help it progress further.

It is so important, as for teenagers…without school there’s nothing to do in the camps. No school places girls at greater risk of sexual violence, makes it harder for them to overcome the trauma they’ve faced. Some may become displaced again or even decide to go back and fight in South Sudan.

HHA don’t normally work in education but this is a huge need both from an emergency humanitarian point of view, but also to give any hope for South Sudan’s future. Last year when Carwyn visited South Sudan, one of the things that struck him most was the lack of medical proffessionals. Some said 10 or less South Sudanese paediatricians for the whole country! If a whole generation miss school due to this refugee crisis, the health system for years and years to come will be impacted.

As I walked around with Abigail and Joseph who both are/will be entitled to an amazing free education, I am feeling very grateful. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a teacher here or as a parent facing these struggles. Getting these schools up and running has now become a bit of a personal challenge for us both. If you’d like to help, especially if you work in a school…we’d love to hear from you.  Happy to do an assembly when we're back or partner your school with one of these. As one example, £80 would be enough to build one new temporary classroom for the primary school working under trees.  Every little helps.