The Democratic Republic of the Congo (referred to as Congo below) in central Africa has been unstable since the 1990s, but tensions have further escalated in the wake of the presidential elections at the end of 2018 and armed clashes in the eastern region in 2019 have resulted in the deaths of scores of civilians. The number of refugees fleeing to neighboring Uganda has also skyrocketed, with approximately 410,000 Congolese refugees currently residing in Uganda. More than 30% of the children living in refugee settlements are currently not able to attend school.
In April this year, AAR Japan began supporting the education of Congolese refugee children and children living in areas hosting refugees. Masayasu Higuchi from the AAR Ugandan Hoima office reports.
Shortly after the support program began…
AAR has been implementing education programs in South Sudanese refugee settlements in northern Uganda since 2016. In June 2019 and February 2020, responding to the rapid increase in the number of Congolese refugees, AAR conducted surveys on education in Congolese refugee settlements in western Uganda. The results showed that while the number of refugees is increasing, education is not being adequately supported.
There are nine public primary schools in the Kyangwali refugee settlement, but some schools have only one classroom for 715 students. There is not enough textbook for each child, and several children have to share a textbook. This situation makes it difficult for children to concentrate. The reality is that many children do not attend school because they do not see the point in going to school due to the harsh environment.
To improve this situation, AAR began the education support program for Congolese refugee children and local Ugandan children in the Kyangwali refugee settlement in April 2020. However, around the same time, COVID-19 started to spread and all schools in Uganda had to be closed. Also, expatriates were forced to leave Uganda for safety reasons.
Although schools in the Kyangwali refugee settlement are still closed, AAR continues to work closely with the Ugandan staff who remain in the area, and we were able to start the construction of nine classrooms in August. In addition to building the classrooms, AAR also provides training for parents, community members, and school personnel to help parents and community members to take the initiative and work with teachers to better manage the school. We also plan to improve the quality of education by distributing textbooks and instructional materials for teachers.
“We try to manage to send our kids to school.”
As of September 11, 3,900 people have been tested positive for COVID-19, and 44 dead in Uganda (Uganda’s Ministry of Health). As of August 21, 72 refugees have been tested positive and one refugee died from COVID-19 in the Kyangwali refugee settlement. Considering inadequate Uganda’s health care system, the key is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since many of the refugees cannot afford hygiene products, AAR started a hygiene awareness campaign in September, distributing hygiene products such as soap and alcohol disinfectant, and encouraging them to wash their hands.
Restrictions on economic activities put in place by the Ugandan government have reduced household incomes and affected children living in the refugee settlements. Gladys Nayema, a second-grade student at a school in the Kyangwali refugee settlement, said, “I’m so sad that I won’t be able to go to school as usual and might not be able to afford a notebook or pens. I can’t wait to see my friends.” Gladys Nayema’s father, Uchama Samwell, 41, said, “Our income has been reduced and if we continue like this, we may not be able to pay our children’s school fees and buy school supplies after school starts again. But I want to make sure they can go to school somehow. We try to do something so that our children can go to school.” He confided his current difficult situation and his worries for the future.
To help the Congolese refugees envision a more hopeful future
I am concerned that Congolese refugee children, who should be protected, might lose the opportunity for education due to the COVID-19 crisis, and that the refugees might lose their lives and livelihoods. While it is distressing that I can’t provide assistance as an expatriate at this time, I will do what I can to respond to the desperate needs of the refugees from Japan in cooperation with my Ugandan staff who will remain in the country and provide as much support as possible.
We will continue to provide educational support to the Congolese refugees to help them overcome the crisis and envision a more hopeful future while fighting against COVID-19.
We would like to ask for your continued support and cooperation in this endeavor.
Reported by Masayasu Higuchi
Japanese-English translation by Yui Hirade
English editing by Yuko Goto