On the Road – Our Schools and a Path Forward
May 15, 2010
After the clinic, and our support of the Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools make up the next biggest component of our program in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement. The students we support are mostly Kenyan refugees, but there is also a small group of Sudanese students and one Congolese that receive full support for school fees and supplies as well.
Unfortunately, due to travel logistics, the week spent in Uganda was the same week as the inter-semester student holiday, leaving the school halls and classrooms virtually deserted. Fortunately however, I was able to visit one small group of 6th grade students at the “Can Rom” Primary school who were studying for their big exams that were coming up at the end of the year. This was a really nice treat after seeing all the quiet, empty school buildings.
The principal of the Primary School made a short presentation to the class introducing me as a Real Medicine representative and asking our Kenyan students to raise their hands. It was clear from the show of hands in the air that Real Medicine was supporting over half of the students in the class. Then Charles Naku, RMF Project Coordinator Uganda, made a short speech about the importance of education and how proud we were to see them working so hard during their holidays. It boggles the mind to imagine a group of 6th grade students in the U.S. voluntarily coming to school on their vacation–now imagine that same group coming to school on an empty stomach.
After stopping in the classroom, meetings were held with each principal of the 5 schools supported by Real Medicine Foundation: two nursery schools, two primary schools (elementary) and one secondary school (high school). Each was deeply thankful for the number of students we supported and each had a “wish list” to present in the hope that, should our budget have anything left or we find additional funding, the students might benefit.
The wish lists were as follows:
Beth Cole Nursery School: Funds are needed to repair the roof structure as the existing roof is in danger of collapsing. To protect the students, classes have been moved to a very small cabin, but with 100 children in the class it is hard to imagine that they can all fit inside.
Daystar Nursery School: Though this school building is in good shape, there are no desks, chairs, or furniture of any kind, forcing the students to sit on the floor. Funds for chairs, benches or desks, and some toys are needed.
Can Rom Primary School: RMF supports the school fees and supplies for 223 of the 534 students here. There are still many more students in the settlement that should be attending but aren’t. Though in this case the buildings constructed by the UNHCR and the Ugandan government are all in decent shape and large enough to house the students, the principal, who had just started two months ago, said there were still many things they needed to make this a good learning environment. The things he wanted to do most for his students were: plant trees in the school yard for shade and buy musical instruments, games, soccer balls, and costumes as they have no extra-curricular activities at all.
Arnold Primary School: RMF supports 201 of the students here, and like at the other schools, there are always other things that can be funded beyond the school fees. Teachers at this school travel quite far to get here, and their lunches aren’t covered, so most wait all day until they return home to eat supper. The complete lack of extra-curricular activities was also mentioned.
Vocational Training Center: a path forward?
After all the various meetings over the course of these three days, the one thing the community decided it needed the most, for both graduated students and adults, was a Vocational Training Center. After putting it to a community vote, the idea of reinstating a long since defunct Vocational Training program was presented as a wish for the rest of the year.
Many vocations were mentioned but the three that were in the highest demand: carpentry, tailoring, and hairdressing. There exists enough need within the settlement alone to provide adequate work for people in these trades, but training in any one of these would also present the opportunity for people to eventually leave the settlement and support themselves on their own.
Particularly important is giving the recently graduated teenagers something productive to learn so that they have a real chance at finding a job. This need was made all too clear after visiting with one of the top high school students in the settlement who, despite his engaging spirit and obvious intellect, still could not find work. Like bored teenagers or young adults anywhere, graduating students in the settlement are turning to alcohol to pass the time and numb their frustrations.
Though it had fallen into slight disrepair, the space where the old Vocational Center was is still in good shape and still has all the old training lists on the wall and even a few odds and ends of rusting carpentry tools. The idea had obvious merit, and fits in with RMF’s idea of helping people rebuild lives with the aim of getting off the aid as soon as possible.
While this would be a great step toward building independence in the community, once again, a limited budget complicates matters. Regardless, in the hope of being able to find a way forward, we have asked the community to carefully study exactly how much it would take to get this program up and running–at least with one of the programs, not all three. Once we have heard back from them we will have a better idea of how to start a program of this nature, however small, that gives people the ability to start paying their children’s school fees on their own and to finally be self sufficient again. This is after all one of the driving ideas behind Real Medicine.
School project funding:
- $50: Toys for Nursery or Primary School
- $100 or more: Tree planting, Sports equipment, or Musical Instruments for Primary School
- $500 or more pays for furniture at the Daystar Nursery School or can go towards fixing the roof of Beth Cole Nursery School.