Samantha takes her place at the front of the class and begins the lesson. She instructs her kindergarteners to repeat the main points after her. The children’s voices recite in deafening unison, enjoying the sanctioned opportunity to be noisy. The classroom is filled with energy and enthusiasm. They seem to be taking great joy in learning. Perhaps that is because they are conscious of just how privileged they are to be in school.
In many countries, education is still viewed as optional, and perhaps not even all that beneficial. For students in Uganda, there are several barriers to education, and therefore to the opportunities it affords.
“I grew up like these children,” Samantha reminisces. “My family was poor.”
That one sentence is loaded with meaning. Poor families in Uganda – and many other African families – face tough choices. To survive poverty, parents often do not send their children to school. Unable to afford school fees, uniforms, and books, they use their scant means for household necessities and food. The parents who do send their children to primary school will often pull them from school once they finish 7th grade, believing they have gained enough education. They can use the school fees for other expenses and their children begin working to help support the family.
Girls face additional challenges. In poor families, the financial lure of the bride price often outweighs the long-term benefits of keeping their daughters in school. Girls as young as 13 and 14 are married so that their families can use the bride price to take care of the children that remain. These girls are pulled from school and become wife, mother, and housekeeper. Without an education or employable skills, they are fully dependent on others.
For the girls who do continue in school, once a month they face another challenge. Too poor to afford sanitary pads, these girls must stay home until their period passes and fall behind in school.
Refugees face all these challenges, and more, in their pursuit of an education.
ADRA believes in the importance of education. We seek to enable people to live life to the full, physically, socially, and spiritually – in a word, to have well-being. A major component of well-being is education.
Until 15 years ago, there was no school in this region of Uganda. When the harsh years under Idi Amin’s rule ended, Ugandans who had fled to other countries began to return home. A large population settled in this region. The government had many priorities as it helped to settle these returnees. One of their priorities was education.
ADRA, working in partnership with the government, built a primary school. It has become known throughout the region as the ADRA school. It was built to accommodate 200 students. ADRA has been visiting communities and families to stress the importance and benefits of education, not only for their children but also for their own future, for their communities, and for their country.
Within the last few years, the student population has quadrupled. The ADRA school is now bursting at the seams with young students from Uganda as well as refugee students from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many of the refugee students are boarding students at a school that was intended for day learners. By day, classrooms are filled with busy students. By night, they are filled with mattresses for the sleeping boarders.
Even though the school is far beyond capacity, ADRA is still visiting refugee families to encourage them to send their children to school. They contrast the short-term benefits of a little money now versus the support an educated, professional child could bring. ADRA also seeks to help with the very real difficulties in sending children to school. By assisting with the food needs and other necessities of the household, ADRA helps to take financial pressure off the family, thereby freeing up some of the finances for education.
“ADRA is very good,” Samantha observes. “It has tried much to help students who are orphaned, or those who come from poor families, by supporting them, providing them with books, school fees, and clothes.”
Samantha also visits families to encourage their children’s school attendance. “I tell parents who think about keeping their children from school because of school fees and materials that it’s better to toil for their education than anything else. Because, you never know, they could become important people in the future. I tell them that when I went to school, I suffered for a little time. But now I am enjoying being able to support myself and to help my parents. I advise parents to look far, to look beyond. To think beyond, to think about their future.”
ADRA is also assisting with a nearby secondary school. As its student population, too, has significantly grown, ADRA has built a dormitory for the boys. It also helped the school to begin a garden of its own. Its produce helps to feed the students. With so many more students, it is essential that the school hire enough teachers to deliver a quality education. ADRA is helping to pay for some of their salaries.
ADRA is especially keen to support the girls, so that they can remain in school. Recently, ADRA distributed sanitary kits to the girls. These kits contained sanitary pads, soap, and other items.
“The provision of the sanitary pads by ADRA helps the girls to stay in school. Some of them would drop out because they don’t have the pads. Some are ashamed and simply leave school. That’s how important it is,” said Nkoba Boaz, the secondary school principal.
Whether its building schools, assisting with financial concerns, uniforms or books, encouraging parents, or giving sanitary kits, ADRA seeks to remove the obstacles to education for students around the world. Your support of our ministry enables children to reach their potential, to give back to their families and communities, and to make the world a better place. Thank you!