With funding from Education Cannot Wait, UNHCR is helping refugee children get back to the safety and protection of learning through the Government of Uganda’s Education Response Plan

Stories from the Field

Special Contribution by Tukundane Yonna and Gerald Musoke, UNHCR

In Adjumani district in northern Uganda – home to more than 214,000 refugees – David Malou Nyankot, a refugee from South Sudan, is the best student in his class. David came to Uganda alone in June 2016 following clashes between warring forces in his home village in Jonglei State.

With funding from Education Cannot Wait, Uganda’s Education Response Plan (ERP) is providing hundreds of thousands of refugee children like David with the safety, protection, hope and opportunity of education.

The primary gross enrolment ratio for refugee children has improved by 22 per cent in Uganda – from 53 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent in 2019 (reaching 71.4 per cent for girls) – according to ECW’s upcoming 2019 Annual Report.

In 2019, David scored an aggregate 4 on his Primary Leaving Examinations, the highest mark you can achieve.

Hope arises

“I had totally lost any hopes of ever joining school again,” says David.

Although David fled alone, he was later united with his uncle who had arrived in Adjumani two years earlier. When David started back in school at Ayilo 1A Primary School the following year, he had to repeat Primary 5.

“My uncle had enough problems at home; he could hardly buy me even a book. I remember walking to school barefooted for a full year,” David says.

The Education Response Plan was launched in September 2018 with financial support from ECW and other partners. It seeks to find a long-term solution for the half-a-million refugee children that are out of school in Uganda. In delivering on the plan’s overall targets, UNHCR and its partner Windle Trust provided exercise books, pens, and other scholastic materials to David and other refugee students like him.

“The teachers in my new school were great. We were over 250 students in my class, but I insisted on using this opportunity to study hard,” David says.

With this expanded support, David is now one of the three top refugee pupils that sat for same exams in 2019.

Top of the class

Mayen Abraham Bol and Deng Awan Deng, both age 15, scored a remarkable aggregate 5 and 6 all in division one.

Abraham fled South Sudan in August 2016 with his younger sister after a violent conflict in his village. They later joined his maternal aunt who had already arrived in Adjumani’s Nyumanzi refugee settlement a year earlier.

“I had completely lost hope. I had no mother, no father, no brother, not any one of my close relatives when I fled,” says Deng.

Awan Deng arrived in Uganda in November 2014 following the brutal conflict in South Sudan.

“When the fighting begun, I was at school. I did not have any opportunity to go back home. I followed the direction in which most of the people were running,” Deng says.

On arrival at Nyumanzi refugee settlement in Adjumani, Deng was placed under foster care, but was later reunited with his aunt who came in a separate convoy.

When he joined school at Nyumanzi II Primary School in 2015, Deng was made to repeat Primary 3 despite having almost completed it back home in South Sudan. He studied here up to Primary 5 before joining Mummy’s Care School in Adjumani Town.

While David, Abraham and Deng were in their Primary 5, Uganda launched the Education Response Plan, paving the way for UNHCR and partners to provide essential learning materials, build new classrooms and repair existing ones to make schools safer and more accessible.

Continuing their learning

Supported by the new education plan, at the end of their Primary 6 district promotional examinations, David and Deng were the best students in the entire district. This earned them an all-expenses-paid scholarship in Mummy’s Care Primary School, a top boarding school in Adjumani Town from where they excelled in their final examinations.

Over 45,000 refugee and host community children in Adjumani go to the 32 primary schools in the refugee settlements of the district. Twelve of these schools are government aided while the rest were established by the communities. Under the ERP, all these schools receive support from UNHCR and partners.

Speaking at a recognition ceremony for best performers, Robert Dima, Adjumani District Education Officer said, “It is our responsibility to support refugee children to achieve their full potential in life. They are simply our brothers from across the border.”

General performance of schools in refugee hosting districts had improved with the implementation of the ERP. Temporary classroom structures have been replaced with permanent buildings and the number of teachers has increased.

With COVID-19 pandemic, schools are currently closed indefinitely. For many refugees like David, Abraham and Deng, who had been admitted at St. Mary’s College School in central Uganda on a partial scholarship, this is a big blow to their dreams. But they are waiting patiently for their return to school and for a future filled with new opportunities.

Education Cannot Wait’s ‘Stories from the Field’ series features the voices of our implementing partners, children, youth and the communities we support. These stories have only been lightly edited to reflect the authentic voice of these frontlines partners on the ground. The views expressed in the Stories from the Field series do not necessarily reflect those of Education Cannot Wait, our Secretariat, donors or UN Member States.


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