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Urban refugee children in Juba urge inclusion in national education system

Author: Yar Ajak | Published: Thursday, July 4, 2024

Refugee children speak to Eye Radio on June 28, 2024. (Photo: Awan Moses/Eye Radio).

Urban refugee children in Juba have appealed for inclusion in the South Sudan education system, during the commemoration of the International Day of African Child.

The event under the theme ‘Education for all children in Africa: the time is now..’ remembers those lost during the Soweto Uprising in South Africa and highlights the ongoing need to enhance education across Africa.

Expressing their needs and concerns on Eye Radio’s Sundown Show, the school children urged the country’s leadership to provide more learning spaces for them to access education as refugees in urban areas.

“My message to the government is that, please include urban refugee children in your national education system and provide more schools for refugee children in school,” said 15-year-old Christina Fred.

Ms. Fred further highlighted the challenges hindering their access to quality education in South Sudan including lack of mobility and school feeding.

“Sometimes when it rains, it is very difficult for me to go to school because we don’t have school buses, and sometimes I don’t have transport money to go to school.”

“Secondly, I find it difficult to go to school because I am worried about what to eat while there, since we don’t have breakfast or meals provided at school. Sometimes when coming and going to school, we can be attacked by gangs on the way, which is very bad.”

“Also, there is a risk of being knocked down by cars while crossing the road; for example, last year, one of the refugee children was knocked down, which was very unfortunate.”

Her colleague, Amira Mohammed, elaborated the difficulties she faces as a refugee child trying to access education in Juba.

“Accessing education in Urban Juba is challenging for several reasons. Firstly, there are no schools specifically for refugee children like those in refugee camps,” she said.

“Secondly, financial constraints are a major issue due to my parents’ unemployment and the current economic situation.”

Discussing access to education for boys and girls, Christina emphasized that early and forced marriages pose significant barriers, recalling an incident involving a primary school friend:

“Parents think that sending girls to school is a waste of their resources and time. They believe girls are meant solely for domestic work at home, such as washing and cleaning, and see this as their primary responsibility instead of attending school,” she said.

“Girls are often pressured into early marriage. For instance, a clever girl from our neighborhood was in primary six when she became pregnant, leading to her being forced to drop out of school, which is unfortunate.”

“When a girl gets pregnant, she can be forced out of school. It is very difficult for a 15-year-old girl to give birth because she is not yet physically mature. Instead of being in school, she is coerced into early marriage, which jeopardizes her future prospects in life, and this situation is very regrettable.”

To address the needs of refugees and returnees, NGOs like the Humanitarian and Development Consortium (HDC) work tirelessly to support affected communities.

HDC strives to support women, children, and other persons of concern affected by crises to attain dignified and prosperous lives through impactful community resilience and practical, innovative programs.

This includes to facilitate people centered humanitarian with nexus on peace and development programmes and to support livelihood and create opportunities for crisis affected people.

Peter Deng, the head of programs at HDC, highlighted their focus on promoting self-reliance through skills training.

“Our primary focus is ensuring that refugees become self-reliant. One of our projects is a livelihood program where we train women in business skills and provide them with a startup business,” Mr Deng stated.

“This initiative has the potential to uplift 1-10 families. Additionally, we provide cash assistance, which families often use to meet school fee requirements and purchase educational materials. We also engage in advocacy and continuously assess their needs.”

He further also urged parents to provide moral support and guidance to their children during these challenging times:

“We acknowledge the challenges they are facing, but as parents, this is the time when we really need to be strong. The distractions children face now can affect their focus, as there are many things that can draw them away.”

Mr. Deng said parents should always check their children when they return from school to see what they are okay to held them feel loved and motivated to study.

“If nothing is done, the child may feel neglected and lose interest in attending school. This sets the stage for future difficulties, including academic struggles or negative influences. We as parents are responsible for this outcome.”

“Even small efforts can have a significant impact. When your child sees your dedication and feels your love despite financial constraints, it can truly motivate them.”

Hanan Suliman, a former HDC volunteer and refugee herself, encouraged women to initiate programs supporting their children’s education:

“People, especially women, together we created women’s initiatives to support our children, following the policy of UNHCR. Urban refugees cannot meet all their educational needs.”

“I recall that in 2016, many women, especially those from Sudan, initiated projects such as Women for Peace and Development, cultural organizations, Blue Nile, among others. Most of these initiatives were aimed at supporting their children.”

On his part, Ashraf Issahg Ibrahim, chairperson of the Nuba community of urban refugees, appealed to donors for scholarships to ensure uninterrupted education:

“If the UNHCR or other partners are able to provide scholarships for ten or five children, this would be beneficial, rather than providing other materials.”

“We prioritize education because we believe it will help these children overcome vulnerability in the future. It would be particularly important for other education-supporting partners to consider taking children into their schools.”

Despite numerous challenges, Christina said she and her fellow refugee children remain hopeful that education will secure a better future:

“I feel like going to school because when I am at home, I cannot achieve anything. So, if i go to school, I aim to gain knowledge. If I remain at home, I cannot secure a good future for myself. Thus, I must attend school so that I can become a good girl student and build a better future for myself.”

 

 

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