Parents, NGOs have partnered to school South Sudanese refugee children. Now, inspired by the Skilling Uganda programme, a minister wants the refugee children to get technical training, reports ARTHUR MATSIKO.
Night Majuma and her two children left Juba on December 21, 2013, a day after her sister was shot and husband murdered by armed men in the war-torn South Sudan.
Now a refugee at Maaji II settlement in Adjumani district, Majuma is a voluntary caretaker of 335 children who, like her, are seeking asylum in Uganda. These children, aged between three and six, are given an equivalent of nursery school education at an Early Childhood Care and Development centre (ECCD) in the camp.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by the civil war which started in December 2013, amid a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar.
Although the two men signed a peace agreement last August, citizens are still fleeing a vengeful conflict pitting the ethnic Dinka against Nuer. Majuma, a S4 dropout mother of two whose husband is a government soldier in South Sudan, now teaches English language, oral literature, numbers and 'environmental science' to the youngsters.
Since these are children from rough backgrounds, cases of fighting are rampant, often over little things like playing materials.
"They are now starting to live as friends after knowing each other unlike in the past," Majuma says. "We always warn them against fighting and also encourage them to live peacefully."
Although these are children from Arabic-speaking communities, Majuma has to teach them in English.
"We have a problem of language barrier because most of these children are Dinka and Nuer who do not understand English," she tells me.
Among the humanitarian oganisations responding to the refugee crisis is the child-centered Plan International Uganda, which commissioned 13 ECCD centres on June 17, 2016. The plan is to help children attain an equivalent of nursery education, but youngsters also get kits and play materials to help them recover from trauma.
Plan International country director Rashid Javed told The Observer in Adjumani that the centres, now reaching more than 8,000 children, reflected his organisation's commitment to increasing children's access to education in a safe and protected environment.
"Our unique early learning model supports children to have a healthy start in life, acquire early stimulation, improved social skills and readiness for school; culminating into a smooth transition to primary school level," Javed said.
He added that with the current investment of Euros 584,000 from the European Union and Sweden, Plan would, by October 2016, be able to reach 3,481 children with basic numeracy, reading, singing and playing at the ECCDs for children aged below six.
A big question then became what next after Plan's offering nursery education. To show their commitment, the refugee community of Ayilo II settlement launched a primary school in February 2015, a month after Plan opened an ECCD there.
Patricia Ijorea, the acting head teacher or Liberty primary school, told The observer that the community conceived the idea through a meeting and decided to clear a piece of land which had trees that would provide shade for the pupils during class hours.
"Among the community are members who can speak and write English," Ijorea said. "These became our first teachers."
This effort was noticed by many humanitarian organisations which came in to support the community. Four months later, Windle Trust Uganda (WTU) brought 10 trained teachers to train the volunteering teachers. Later, six of them were taken for further training so they could return to help the school.
Windle Trust is a non-governmental organisation whose primary mission is to equip Africa to meet challenges of development through providing access to education, training and employment opportunities by advocacy and direct programme activity.
WTU, which assists refugees and other victims of conflict, reportedly pays every trained teacher Shs 360,000 per month. Classroom assistants or untrained teachers earn Shs 260,000 per month. Examinations are also brought by the same organisation.
"Textbooks are not enough," Ijorea said of the school's challenges. "Pupils study under trees and whenever there is a sign of rainfall, we send them home."
Although South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and former rival Riek Machar signed a peace deal to bring peace after two years of conflict, there is minimal hope that these refugees will soon return home.
And with the majority being children and youths, Musa Ecweru, the minister of state for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, has an idea that could transform the lives of these refugees before and after they return to South Sudan. Addressing refugees at Maaji III settlement, during the launch of the ECDDs, Ecweru spoke of the need to give refugees technical training.
"I have talked to my people in the American embassy, the British High Commission [and] the Japanese mission. I want them to do for me one thing," Ecweru said. "I want them to make sure that the young people who are refugees are given technical training while they are in Uganda."
He added that since most of the youths are of the school-going age, skilling them would help them rebuild South Sudan when they return.
"Now that the government of Uganda is talking about skilling her citizens, can we also extend the same skilling to the refugees?" the minister asked his audience, without giving timelines.
William Gatluak Nyuot reached at Nyumanzi reception centre on June 17, 2016. This 39-year-old farmer walked for seven days with his wife and four children from Mankien, Unity state to Anet in Warrap state.
Nyuot, who fled his country due to famine, explained that life has become very difficult for village dwellers because all crops were destroyed and water is contaminated.
"Life back home is not easy especially for people who depended on farming like me," Nyuot told this writer. "I am happy to have entered Uganda but I also wish to go back home as soon as the economy stabilises."
An estimated 250 South Sudanese refugees enter Uganda everyday but, and Uganda is determined to keep welcoming them.
"While the rest of the world is nervous and is choosing to take emotional positions on matters of forced migration and refugees to the extent of sometimes closing their doors in the face of people running from persecution, Uganda's refugee policy and practice continues to be that of an open-door, very liberal," he said.
But Ecweru admitted that the refugee situation is becoming a "very big burden" to Uganda.
"We will continue to look after people who are running here in distress even if they reached 40 million," he said. "That doesn't suggest [that] we have enough resources, but we have the will."
Source: The Observer