Pursuing Education Against All Odds

Child marriage, sexual exploitation and harmful social norms

In a refugee settlement, girls are especially vulnerable.

Ala and Nakiro lost their parents in the war in South Sudan. They survived hardships and fled to neighboring Uganda with their younger siblings. Now they are both the head of their household, fighting to raise their siblings and go to school at the same time. It is tough, and a lot of responsibility. But the two friends are determined to stay in school.

Just like Ala and Nakiro, every single child in Palabek Refugee Settlement has been through a lot. They are all survivors of war, hunger and violent attacks. Many are orphans. And many have lost years of schooling due to the conflict in their home country, South Sudan, holding them back from pursuing their dreams for the future. 

  • Multiple Obstacles for Girls

    On top of that, very practical issues make it difficult for girls to attend school. They have to balance domestic chores with schoolwork, risk being abused or attacked when walking long distances to and from school. And then there is menstruation. Girls miss several days of school every month, because they can’t afford sanitary pads, and there are no changing rooms in the schools.

  • Acen (14): It's more difficult for girls 

    “In my community, it is more difficult for girls than boys to go to school. Other children might laugh at you when you have your period, and the school does not have any sanitary pads – so instead of going to school, you stay home.”

  • Nakiro (18): I finally went back to school 

    To attract girls to school and prevent them from dropping out, the Education for Life project pays special attention to their needs. The project provides a unique opportunity for teenagers to go back to school and get a primary education in only four years.

    "I was out of school for three years, until I read a sign by the road about the Education for Life project. I went home and told my siblings that I wanted us all to go back to school – they would be in primary, and I would be in this project."

  • Ala (15): I don't want to get married - I want to stay in school

    “They try to force me to get married. But I say no! School is important; it helps me to pay attention, and to communicate with other people. And the teachers give me good advice, so that I can become a good person, and I learn how to protect myself. When I go to school, I am happy.” 

  • Nyadeng (17): I am a mother and a student

    “I live all alone with my two children, and my life is very difficult. So I bring my baby to school with me every day. When she cries, I have to leave class, so that she won’t disturb the others. That is a challenge. But it is important for me to stay in school. I was out of school before, because no one could pay my school fees, and it was not good for me."

  • Elena (14): I want to be a member of parliament

    “I dream of becoming a member of parliament one day, so that I can tell everyone about life in our community – and how important it is for us to go to school.”

  • Acuku, teacher: They can always come to us

    "One girl came to us because she was afraid that someone wanted to sleep with her while her father was away. Other children come from families where the father drinks too much alcohol. If the children fear talking to their parents, they can always come to us. We feel a great responsibility for these children and their future.”

  • Gloria, teacher: The hope of a brighter future

    “It was such a wonderful opportunity for me to become a teacher in the Education for Life project. In this community there are many problems especially with girls who leave school because they have children at an early age. Through the project we have the opportunity to bring them back to school – and give them the hope of a brighter future."

  • Irene, teacher: Positive attitudes amidst the problems

    "When the children first started in school, they were full of fear. But we try to be close to them, to talk to them and encourage them. And their attitudes have already changed in a very positive way. They like school." 

  • Mary, teacher: Girls must be given equal oppurtunities

    “Many girls around here are treated as a means of getting money. They are undermined by their community, who always prioritize sending the boys to school first. When girls start developing breasts, they are usually told not to go to school anymore, because then ‘you are a mother’. They always face these kinds of problems and eventually, many are forced into early marriage."

  • Ongom, teacher: We bring hope and oppurtunities

    "One boy was very quiet when we first met him and barely spoke, but now after spending some months with us, he greets us every morning. The local community has even expressed its appreciation for the changes we have made with the learners. To me, that kind of change is very interesting. That is why we should continue doing what we are doing in this project." 

  • Otto, teacher: We try to involve the parents

    "During the rainy season, most peasant farmers take their children to the fields for weeks. That is a serious problem for the children’s school participation. In the Education for Life project, we try to involve the parents, advising them to let their children go to school even during the harvest.” 

  • Samuel, teacher: We help children to restore hope

    “The essence of the Education for Life project is to build resilience for children who are going through crisis. They have all experienced various challenges, and they are filled with trauma. Many of them have escaped from war, and have been out of school for several years. We structure the school to help them in the best possible way."

  • These stories were produced with the financial support of the European Union. Contents are the sole responsibility of Oxfam in Uganda and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.