Tag Archives: education

3-Refugee Worker: Betty

Diagram on a school building at St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls’ Secondary School

Betty worked for JRS in Adjumani until it was discontinued. She helped train primary-school teachers. She did so well that JRS helped fund her Bachelor’s degree. She went to JRS South Sudan where she helped train primary teachers. She had to flee the country when the civil war began, making her a refugee herself. She was in a hotel meeting when the war was breaking out. There were soldiers there who made sure that no one left and no one came in. She managed to escape by hiding beneath a covered cart that was used for resupplying the hotel. Her rescuers then took her out of the country in a van.

She started one month ago here at JRS Adjumani. JRS Adjumani focuses mainly on education. They try to aim for 50:50 boy to girl ratio for students. It is harder to fill all the spots for girls because of the great challenges they face. Fortunately, this is Betty’s expertise. She is the assistant education officer and helps train teachers in adolescent development. They are aided by career guidance counselors who help direct students to take certain classes so that they can fulfill their dreams. Counselors help students get past traumatic experiences and family problems. Teachers and tutors also teach study skills. Betty focuses on girls’ education because of the many challenges they face. One challenge that is unique to girls is the lack of sanitation pads for menstruation. Away from home, they need all their basic supplies like clothes and soap to survive. A bigger challenge is early marriage. Parents can force their children to marry for economic or cultural reasons. Girls can be as young as 10 although most are 15 or 16. For some tribes it is quite common. Boarding schools are the best way to break the cycle. The Ugandan government is catching on and is helping prevent child marriage through its laws.

Primary school is where education starts. Children learn English, math, social studies, and science. The curriculum differs by country. They incorporate local culture by teaching the local language, local dances, and local music. School is hard at the beginning, but the students eventually get the hang of it. The best part is that the students can get individual help from their teachers. Even the parent teacher association can get involved and help the teacher out. Parents can come into classrooms and help the teacher keep order.

All of Ugandan education points to university. Although a degree doesn’t guarantee employment, having a university degree increases the chances for getting a job and increases the chances for getting a better job. Graduates will usually remain close to where they graduate. Employers mainly look at qualifications above all else, and nothing says you’re more qualified than a degree or perhaps some experience. Those who drop out can go to vocational training. They finish with a skill and a start up kit to help them do their skill. Those who don’t go to vocational training can become idle and turn to drinking.

The behavior of a teacher is just as important as what they teach. There has been a lot of change in recent decades. Caneing used to be prevalent in schools. A teacher could get a stick and whack a child’s bottom if they got an answer wrong or if they behaved badly. Sticks from coffee trees lasted the longest. Now, caneing has been in sharp decline. The focus is on positive discipline like standing in consternation. Furthermore, each country has developed it’s own ethical code for teachers to follow.

No matter where students land, they will have learned about peacebuilding because of school. Classrooms are mixed with people from all tribes. They learn they are all humans first instead of tribes first. The peacebuilding doesn’t stop in the classroom. People from tribes who have hated each other like the Dinka and Neur go through education programs hosted by NGOs. It used to be that the Dinka, who have the power in the South Sudanese government, couldn’t stay in the same refugee camps as the people from the other tribes because violence would break out. That is no longer the case in many camps. There are also peacebuilding efforts between the host communities and refugees so that they can understand each other’s struggles. The host communities are even willing to give more land for those refugees who need a lot of food and therefore more farm land.

It is great that so many people are able to carry on with life when their homes have been destroyed. It looks like they will have to keep carrying on as the situation in South Sudan looks grim. Even the peace talks fail. The good thing is Uganda will probably not fall into the same situation. Ugandans have a strong fear of God and listen to the bishops. The people have seen the mess that resuts from conflict and don’t want it to happen to them. Plus, most Ugandans don’t have guns like almost 75%of the population in South Sudan just before the war.

2-Refugee Experience: Alvin

Alvin and some friends and I

While at Jesuit Refugee Service in Kampala, I befriended a refugee named Alvin. This is a summary of a thirty minute conversation I had with him. His story is the first peek I had into the troughs of being a refugee.

Alvin is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He and his family became refugees when a militia killed his father and began looking for the rest of his family. They had to flee. He got to JRS because of his mom. She heard about it from a friend and had to choose one of her children to send there. She chose Alvin. The rest of his family remains at a refugee camp in East Uganda. He has to do his best here and learn as much as he can so that he can help his family. His family gets maize and beans once a month and that isn’t enough, but at least it allows them to sleep in peace.

His father was an airplane engineer. Alvin had been to the airport when he was three, and his father showed him the planes there. Ever since then, he’s had the dream to be a pilot. Right now, he is learning hair styling just to get by. It isn’t his passion, but he has to do it so he can help his family. He was going to take the English course JRS offered, but it would take one year to complete which is too long. Also, he was going to take computer classes, but his eyes are bad. Even when he completes the program, he isn’t confident he will find a job. Why would a Ugandan give a stranger a job? He wished to get a sponsorship to the US, so he can become a pilot. He thinks people can become whatever they want there.

He doesn’t think things will get better in the future. He can’t go back to his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because the militia will kill him. He thinks it is the leaders that are the problem. They enrich themselves and send their kids far away for education. They don’t care about the people. Their actions have created a lost generation, his generation.

He prays a lot to God to help him. That God will help all the refugees.

Thanksgiving in May

Today is Tuesday, the 24th of May. Joanna took us to the Kino Border Initiative’s humanitarian shelter for women migrants, Casa Nazaret. We met women and children who had been staying in an apartment room on the top floor of a rickety old building. As we reached the top, we were greeted with grins and giggles by the families seeking shelter.

We listened to a presentation about the people who the Casa Nazaret served. I learned that the Border Patrol has a program that is aimed to interrupt migration routes by separating families traveling together. This makes families more vulnerable in an infinite amount of ways.

A fact that left me bewildered was that 75% of these women have had less than a middle school education.

How could this be when I have had the privilege of attending an all-girls private, college preparatory school. I had a flashback of all the things I had learned there and how much I had developed into a confident, independent, thinking leader.

I asked Joanna why this was. She said that even though education was free, families still had to provide money for books and uniforms and transportation. Most families can barely even afford their children taking time off of work to attend school. Since the education for women is so low, it becomes harder as they grow older to find work. Weavings of Hope is a program that provides women with the opportunity to have some sort of income by making bracelets.

Women are able to weave bracelets and sell them as a way to make money. The process of making these bracelets is meditative and can also have a huge impact psychologically.
Women are able to weave bracelets and sell them as a way to make money. The process of making these bracelets is meditative and can also have a huge impact psychologically.

After the presentation, I read testimonial after testimonial of women who had passed through Casa Nazaret. I found the main thing that tied a lot of the stories together was family.

I remember one story about a woman who had grown up in a family where she had been neglected simply because she had been born with the wrong set of chromosomes. She was abused both physically and mentally in the most crucial stages of her life. As she started to have children of her own, she made a promise to herself to never expose her children to the hardships she had known growing up. She crossed the border illegally and had four children in America, a place where she could receive aid and her children could receive an adequate education.

One day, she had been driving her daughter to an appointment. She was pulled over, handcuffed, and taken to be detained right in front of her daughter. She had no time to gather her things or say goodbye to her husband or her children. This women was deported back to Mexico, miles away from the loves of her life. But how could she call her children and explain why she had to leave?

At the end of today, I am thankful. I am thankful for the opportunity of not only an education, but one that celebrates what being a women means. I am thankful to have been able to focus on my studies rather than having to work all of the time at a young age. I am thankful for having job opportunities that provide me with more than $4 at the end of my shift. I’m thankful for the nurturing family that continues to care about my whole well being and supports me.

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I told myself I would attempt to somewhat organize the structure/subject matters of these blog posts, but it’s really not going to happen so I apologize for my lack of order. Then again, it reflects the chaotic nature of my first two days here in Uganda. I’ve spent probably a solid three hours with my face right next to the open window of our home away from the hotel, also known as our bus, which has left a lovely layer of dirt on my face and hundreds of lasting images in my mind.

One of hundreds of motorbikes that passed by the windows of our bus.

Traffic in Kampala should not even be described as traffic. It’s more like drive where you want, when you want, as fast as you want, because you can. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone through round-a-bouts amidst tons of motorbikes inches away from both sides of the bus. Meanwhile, you drive on the left side of the road here which constantly gives me these split-second moments where I panic and convince myself we’re about to die in a head-on collision. Slightly dramatic and unpleasant, so let’s move on.

We went to a market to shop for gifts and I discovered two main things. First of all, if you ever find yourself in foreign markets with me never, I repeat, never count on me to do the bartering. I had barely figured out the exchange rate of currency therefore I had zero idea of how much money I should be paying for anything let alone demand a lower price. My inability to assert myself aside, I did manage to make some friends in the process. A woman asked what “Creighton” on my T-shirt meant and when I told her it was a school she immediately gave me a giant hug. It was a warm embrace, but at the same time a harsh slap in my face for not appreciating my education as much as I should. I also bonded with my buddy Dennis, a charismatic painter who told me even though I was American he still thought I was “one cool cat.” Thanks Dennis, right back at you.

The boat which took us across Lake Victoria to the Source of the Nile.

Today we ventured down to the Source of the Nile which was stunningly serene, if that’s even possible (I’ll post a picture eventually). We climbed into a rather shaky wooden boat, where if one person would have shifted their weight too much in one direction, there could have been a short documentary produced about the backpack journalism crew swimming through Lake Victoria. There was a moment when we pulled into shore from the boat, and a Ugandan man was filming us on his phone as we arrived. At first I thought “This is odd,” then I looked down at the camera strapped to my own neck. The shoe was officially on the other foot, or I guess in this case the eyes were on the other side of the lens.

As Long as You Love Me” and “Last Christmas” played at the first restaurant we ate dinner at. Backstreet Boys and Christmas music, two things I generally associate with Africa. It was a nice reminder of home (and who doesn’t love boy bands and out of season Christmas music?), but at the same time an interesting display of just how far the United States influence travels.

Those are just a view tidbits of all the images that have crossed my path in these past two days and I’m sure it’s only the beginning. Tomorrow is going to be another long day on our trusty bus, but every day is a new adventure here and I can’t really complain about that.

Keep on keepin’ on,


p.s. Yes, this does indeed happen every morning as the sun comes up. Just kidding. Or am I? I guess you all need to take a trip down here to find out!

“Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” -Roald Dahl