Realizing safe and quality education in emergencies

August 11, 2016

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This blog post is a part of the UNGEI #YouthLeads blog series, running from August 8 – 12. For daily blog notifications follow us on twitter at @UNGEI.

Submitted by Joseph Munyambanza.

Some students have to walk 20km to school and 20Km home after school in order to access the only secondary school in Kyangwali Refugee School – a school that lacks the last 2 years of secondary school. In primary school, everyday I walked the total of seven kilometers. This was very tiring given the fact that most of the time I went to school on an empty stomach. I remember one day on my way to school in my last year of primary school, I fainted and was taken to the hospital where I spent three days unconscious. This is the refugee education situation in which I grew up, and so I was not looking forward to joining secondary school in the refugee camp where I would walk even a longer distance.

As a boy, I was scared of only one challenge, the long distance to schools. But if I were a girl in this community, in addition to the distance I would face many more hindrances because of poor attitudes towards women. In Uganda, when girls reach puberty, they are expected to leave school, take up domestic work, get married and produce children. If any girl past adolescence tried to walk these kilometers to go to school she would be considered lazy and rebellious, instead of being appreciated or supported toward her education.

Kyangwali refugee settlement, where I lived, was home to tens of thousands of refugees, but up until 2009 I had never seen even a single girl from the camp complete secondary school. Everyday we heard horrible stories of young women losing their lives giving birth, stories of domestic violence and, of course, continued school dropouts.

In 2005, we, young refugees created CIYOTA (COBURWAS International youth Organisation to Transform Africa), to increase access to education and to enable more girls to stay in school while learning. We employed a holistic community development approach in order to identify and address the key factors (internal and external to school) as primary drivers of lack of education success and contributors to school dropout. CIYOTA then piloted a primary through secondary education program, which emphasized and worked actively towards fostering community ownership for social cohesion, violence reduction and sustainable development.

By working with the community we were able to change attitudes towards girls through education and consultation. As a result we were able to significantly reduce marginalization of girls.  In 2010 we supported the first 5 girls from Kyangwali to complete their secondary schooling.

Our community engagement approach has proved successful over time and has allowed us to date to support over 600 students to complete high school – almost 50% of them girls. Recognising that it is important to support students from camp settings even further, we have partnered with universities and other stakeholders to support high school graduates to transition to tertiary education. We know that these opportunities can prepare students to return to their community to drive a lasting change.

What makes education in emergencies successful?

Collaborate with the community

By drawing from our own example, I believe that the most effective way to realize safe learning and quality education in emergencies is to collaborate with people living in these communities. Most of the time the cultural beliefs cause people to think that education is not a priority, and that investing in girls’ education is unwise. By working with people in this type of community we can help them understand that education is the biggest investment anyone can make. After convincing families, community members and teachers of the value of educating girls, they are more ready to allow girls to safely attend their schooling.

Provide the materials and resources necessary for success

Safe and quality schools should be available, reachable and equipped to create incentive for students to learn. In most cases refugees are supported under UNHCR mandate – which limits assistance to refugees for about 17 months, yet on average, refugees live in a refugee settlement for over 17 years. I am an example of this, having lived in Kyangwali refugee camp for 20 years now. As I mentioned earlier, the only secondary school in Kyangwali lacks the last 2 years of high school and it is poorly equipped; most refugee camps are in a similar or worse situation. This type of situation kills the dreams and hopes of millions of children who have only ever lived in the refugee camps, which is why providing education for primary and secondary and higher is so important.

Provide Psychosocial Support

In addition to providing education, refugee children and youth need psychosocial support to overcome traumas, which they have been exposed to and continue to be exposed to as a displaced person. We all need someone to tap on our shoulders after a life threatening experience in order to gather our thoughts and rebuild our energy, and these children are no different.

If the above measures are taken millions of children will be enabled to access safe and quality education. If we cannot meet the education needs of refugee and displaced populations, we cannot hope to achieve global education goals by 2030.


About Joseph 

Bio - JosephJoseph Munyambanza, 25-year-old from the D.R. Congo, fled from his home country to Uganda at the age of six due to conflict. Since the age of 14, Joseph has been working with his friends to build CIYOTA to increase access to education for refugee children. Joseph was recognized along with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia as one of four Global Citizen Award winners of 2013. He was named one of The 99 most influential Foreign Policy Leaders under the age of 33 by the Diplomatic Courier magazine in 2013.

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