UNHCR: Schooling for a better life

By Eunice Ohanusi, UNHCR

Limited opportunities for post-primary education leave young girls extremely vulnerable to gender-related protection risks

Anita, aged 15 years, is determined not to be left behind. Together with her classmates, she spends 20 hours a week preparing for the forthcoming Primary Leaving Exam. They attend Nyarugugu Primary School in Nakivale Refugee Settlement 

“I don’t need to skip classes any more,” Anita says. “I also attend extra lessons at school. Once I pass the exam, I will be sure that I am guaranteed a place in the only secondary school of the community.”

Anita overcame many hurdles to make it this far. A first generation refugee, the only home she knows is Uganda. Insecurity in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, forced her family to flee the country for safety.

Separated from their mother, Anita and her siblings were raised by their father. As the eldest child, she was forced to miss some classes while she carried out domestic chores and cared for her three younger siblings. She was nine years old.

In class, the pupils are taking integrated science, one of Anita’s favorite subjects. “It is my dream to be a nurse,” she says. “I really want to attend secondary school.”

Beneath her excitement, there are silent fears. In the refugee settlement, her chances of completing primary school are slimmer as she grows older. Girls of her age rarely complete their education. As soon as they turn 15, they are married off in exchange for dowry to support the family.

Diana, another student, is facing just such a risk. “I may not proceed to senior one if I do not get admitted into Nakivale Secondary school,” she says. My parents are already planning to give me away in marriage if don’t get the scholarship.

“My older sister was married at 17. She was still in primary seven. She couldn’t finish her education because my parents needed the money from her dowry to pay for my mother’s medical bills.”

Edwin Muhairwe, the head teacher at Nyarugugu, is hopeful. He commends Anita’s remarkable resilience and outstanding performance, saying she is one of the brightest pupils in school.

“With the support given to refugee children, they are able to excel in their studies,” he says. He adds that the school has received support of additional classes, latrine stances for boys and girls, chairs, tables, desks, recreational materials and teachers’ accommodation.

“I love to continue my education up to college but the fear of dropping out haunts my dreams,” Anita says. “I will be the first to attend secondary school in my family, my parents never did but someone has to break the cycle,” she adds, with an infectious smile.