International Refugee Trust is passionate about the importance of education as a way out of poverty. Through IRT’s StepUp programme in rural northern Uganda, families are taught the importance of sending children to school and the enormous benefits and opportunities an education provides. As another component of the programme, the Organisation for Community Action (OCA), IRT’s partner, has established a scholarship scheme which pays school fees for girls in StepUp communities. In northern Uganda, national lockdown and the closing of schools has had a significant impact on children’s studies. Students from rural areas, without internet access, are unable to benefit from the remote online teaching embraced in other parts of the world.
At first, when schools closed it was a difficult adjustment for a lot of families. Many students were given holiday packages by their schools to complete whilst in lockdown, but the lockdown lasted a lot longer than anticipated. The students made other efforts to keep up with their studies by listening to remote education through the radio and having group discussions with classmates within their villages.
StepUp participant Martine told OCA’s trained experts on the ground that “as a result of schools being closed, some irresponsible men are taking advantage of this situation to marry off the girls in the village by telling them that COVID-19 will not end and that school will not open again. However, parents that received StepUp training are talking to their children on the dangers of early marriage and engaging them on agricultural activities to keep them busy.” Martine said the children have really helped with domestic work. They have been of great help in growing cabbages which were harvested this season, with part of the profits to be kept for school fees when school reopens.
Angella, a Senior Two student with a StepUp scholarship at Wisdom High School, testified that she has been able to complete her school work in addition to helping out with domestic work. When interviewed, she said, “My parents are giving me and my siblings enough time to revise our books which we do in the afternoon, late evening and very early in the morning at around 5:00am since we have lamps. At my school we were given a holiday package which I have completed.” She added, “I want to thank my parents for being so supportive towards our education by giving us enough time for holiday studies. And I also want to thank OCA too for sponsoring my studies.” Angella’s grandmother Faustina was pleased to see her sons helping Angella and her other grandchildren with school work. She said, “Seeing all this makes me so happy because even though the children are not at school, they are showing a positive attitude towards education that shall make a better future for them.”
Despite the lockdown adding another barrier to education, especially for girls, it is rewarding to see that families in the StepUp programme remain committed to the future generation having an education. It is so inspiring to see the long-lasting impact that StepUp training has, and it is hoped that the students are able to continue their education throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond.