1 out of every 5 children are denied an education. That is a staggering loss of potential. For every child not in school, the cycles of poverty, inequality, and instability will continue for at least another generation.
Why are so many children out of school? Mugwaneza’s story helps to illustrate many of the reasons.
“It never occurred to me that I would one day become a refugee,” said Mugwaneza. She, her mother, and her siblings fled the violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the safety of neighbouring Uganda. “I knew that other people from other countries sometimes had to flee and become refugees, but I didn’t think that it would ever happen to me.”
When Mugwaneza was 11 years old, soldiers attacked her village. They killed her uncle. Her family lived in fear that they would die next. Her mother decided to head for Uganda and life as refugees.
For many children, conflicts and insecurity disrupt or even halt their education. Often, it is dangerous for children to travel to and from school. Girls are especially vulnerable to abduction, trafficking, and violence.
Often, as in Mugwaneza’s case, there is no school available. If a school is available, it may not be accessible because of language or cultural differences. Mugwaneza and adolescent girls like her around the world face particular challenges to obtaining an education.
Once a month they are in especial need of sanitation facilities and feminine hygiene supplies. Lacking these, the girls risk shame and embarrassment if they go to school. Missing a week of school once a month is a major hindrance and many girls fall behind and leave school altogether.
Child marriage, driven by poverty, also denies young people their education. Overnight a young girl assumes the responsibilities of a woman and is effectively barred from school. A young boy, forced into the roles of husband, father, and provider, must abandon pursuit of his potential, often for a life of unskilled low-paid labour.
Extreme poverty forces parents to make difficult decisions. When survival is at stake, parents must choose whether children will work to help feed the family or allow them to attend school while suffering from hunger. Children are pulled from school because they are needed to help support their families either in the fields, by foraging, or in paid labour.
In some places, like Zimbabwe for example, there is insufficient funding to build schools, train and pay teachers, or distribute supplies to educate every child.
Educational challenges exist in all countries. Here in Canada, parents struggling to make ends meet may send their children to school without a meal. Children who are hungry are unable to properly focus on their lessons and can fail to reach their full potential.
ADRA’s purpose is to serve humanity so all may live as God intended. For us, education means that all are better able to live with dignity, opportunity, security, health, and rights, as God intended. We strive to help others overcome the barriers they face in getting a good education.
To overcome the barrier of no schools, we work to make schools available. In Uganda, there is a school known locally as the “ADRA school.” Built by ADRA in 2004, it was intended for the local children. Since the influx of Congolese refugees, the school has opened its doors to students like Mugwaneza, with support from ADRA.
There are several approaches we use to particularly assist girls in obtaining an education. Mugwaneza and her fellow female classmates have been the recipients of feminine hygiene kits containing reusable pads to empower them to remain in school. So far, ADRA has given sanitary pads to 900 girls who are grateful and excited to be able to remain in school.
ADRA is also working with communities and families to help them understand the benefits of keeping girls in school and delaying marriage until they are older.
ADRA’s newly announced BRIGHT project will work in conflict-affected areas of Sudan, Niger, and Myanmar to ensure that children, especially girls and women, can get an education without risking their lives.
To support families struggling to make ends meet, ADRA helps to provide meals to students so that their parents will send them to school and so that the students will achieve greater success. For example, in Canada, ADRA is helping to support a school meals program at the Mamawi Atosketan Native School. The students are able to pay better attention during class and absorb their lessons.
“ADRA encourages us all to study hard so we can have a better future,” said Mugwaneza. “I really believe in education. I one day hope to become a lawyer so that I can help people who are facing difficulties in their life like I have.”
Mugwaneza and many more are benefiting from what we have been able to do. There is so much more that needs to be done.
Schools need to be built in Zimbabwe; school meal programs in Madagascar need funding; refugees in Rwanda need uniforms and school supplies; vulnerable girls in Thailand need a safe and supportive shelter where their education is encouraged…the list is long. Each need is an opportunity for us to truly transform lives, communities, and even countries.
A generation of bright, capable, and eager children is being denied the surest path to secure and dignified lives.
Your support of our Education fund is an investment in futures. An investment that yields dividends worth more than monetary returns. Your support for the cause of education means that you are simultaneously tackling poverty, inequality, the health of families, peace and stability in countries, human rights, and so much more. When you support education, you ensure that every child, everywhere, can have the opportunity to be in school, setting the world on a path to a better future.