‘WHEN I TEACH, I AM FREE’

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. Dugale sees education – and the hope and opportunity it brings – as a pathway to a more peaceful world. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

In Uganda, a refugee teacher from South Sudan has returned to the classroom through an accelerated education programme implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council with funding from Education Cannot Wait

Stories from the Field

Special Contribution by Rebecca Crombleholme, Norwegian Refugee Council Uganda (Original Story)

He fled South Sudan with nothing, but as soon as he arrived in Uganda, he began teaching. Dugale believes in the next generation, and he will stop at nothing until every child can return to their community ready to face the future.

“I have lost a lot of things,” he says, “but when I enter the classroom, I leave all that behind me. I teach like I would normally, and I am free.”

Dugale Severy is 38 years old. He began his teaching career in his hometown in South Sudan straight after leaving university. Throughout his own schooling he benefitted from teachers who made things clear, and this gave him the courage to learn more. Teaching, he says, is his way of serving others.

“I love teaching,” Dugale says with a smile. “When you are a teacher, you can help everybody without borders. I want to inspire my students to become teachers themselves so that they can help other refugee children.”

Dugale now teaches on the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Accelerated Education Programme in Nyumanzi Settlement, Uganda. Many of his students have lost loved ones and missed out on many years of school. All have been forced to flee their homes.

This is something Dugale understands, as he too was forced to flee.

A sanctuary amidst the chaos of conflict

In 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, bringing an end to Africa’s longest civil war. Two years later, violent conflict broke out, shattering the newly acquired peace. The conflict has since forced over four million people to flee their homes.

Dugale found a sanctuary amongst the chaos through his work. “I instantly enjoyed teaching. It was a good escape from the war. There was no interference.”

Despite the peace within the classroom walls, it was often hard to ignore the threats that surrounded them.

“During the war, we weren’t able to teach at our best because of fear. Sometimes you are in class and you hear the sound of guns. And then you must stop teaching and figure out how to respond. Whether you need to run,” says Dugale.

As the violence got closer to home, Dugale decided he must flee with his family to keep them safe.

Education offers a route out of poverty

Dugale and his family crossed the border into Uganda in 2016 with only their ID documents, clothes and enough food to last two days. “This is all I came with. The rest of the things I left in South Sudan,” Dugale says with regret.

He finds it difficult when he thinks about everything he has left behind. “My property has been looted and some of my relatives have been killed, so it is difficult to think about.”

Despite Uganda’s open border policy for refugees, life without work can be tough. Many families benefit from food aid from organisations like NRC, but this doesn’t reach everyone. As a result, many refugee children drop out of school to take on adult responsibilities.

But Dugale believes that education provides a route out of poverty. NRC’s Accelerated Education Programme is taught at primary level and welcomes students up to the age of 18. Some of these young people are scared of re-entering education, Dugale says. “They see their age and they see their size they think they cannot fit.” But he believes that it is never too late to learn.

“For those who do join the programme, they can instantly see a way out of extreme poverty,” he continues. “They really know something. When they are in the classroom, they can see their future ahead and that their future is bright.”

Squeezing seven years into three

Dugale’s job is a challenging one. He must squeeze seven years of schooling into just three. The students in his class are from different ethnic groups, and they all have unique stories to tell about where they come from. “You know, a lot of my students have lost family members,” he explains.

A lot of students demonstrate challenging behaviour when they begin the programme. Dugale describes one student who stood out in his memory.

“Back then, he was drinking alcohol, he was smoking. His behaviour was really very bad. But throughout the programme something changed within him. He is now in secondary school, and he is so bright. I stay in touch with him, I will never forget him because of his progress and the way his attitude changed.”

Dugale continues with pride: “He is doing so well, and I know he will never, ever, go back to the life that he had before.”

A calm environment

Dugale knows that despite his students’ challenging pasts, each one has something unique to offer. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and his students benefit from this in the classroom.

“Sometimes they are happy,” he says. “But their lives have been difficult. There is a time for everything. If there is also some joy, we hold onto it and enjoy it. I am always talking with my students, whatever situation they are in. We provide a calm environment.”

“Singing is one of the methods we use in the classroom. You know, when you sing, it can make my students feel upbeat. You make a bit of fun, and the students will be laughing. When I do this, especially when teaching something that is challenging to understand, I know that the lesson can go successfully.”

‘I see that what I am doing here is good’

Education is one of the most underfunded of humanitarian responses. According to Education Cannot Wait, only two percent of humanitarian funding is allocated to education. This should not be the case. The benefits of education run far deeper than addressing the immediate needs of individuals or communities.

Dugale believes that education is the key to creating peace in times of conflict. “Teachers are the commanders who can fight this war. There must be teachers who can educate the next generation. When you have knowledge, you can give it to the rest of the world.”

Teachers like Dugale are essential to ensuring that young refugees can rebuild their futures. He knows that he alone cannot stop the devastating cycle of war, poverty and displacement. But with every new student that joins the Accelerated Education Programme, there is hope for the future. And that impact will continue for generations to come.

“The students in my class are active. There is hope. When I am teaching and they are getting something from me, I see that these are the people who are going to uplift the economy, even uplift the world!”

Covid-19 situation in Uganda

When the first case of Covid-19 in Uganda was confirmed on 21 March 2020, the government introduced stringent measures to minimise the spread of the virus. All education centres were closed, thus disrupting learning. This paved the way for distance learning programmes for children at home, delivered through radio, TV, and self-study. However, there are challenges for refugees who do not have access to radio and TV sets.

Since the schools have been closed, the situation for thousands of students have been very difficult. It is not easy to study at home and many have a lot to catch up on when the schools open.

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.

EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT ANNOUNCES US$3 MILLION FIRST EMERGENCY RESPONSE IN YEMEN TO SUPPORT CHILDREN AFFECTED BY THE CRISIS IN RESUMING THEIR EDUCATION

Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$3 million first emergency response to support education in emergency efforts for girls and boys who are affected by the escalating crisis in the Western Coastal governorates of Yemen, which are currently hosting more than one third of the 3.6 million internally displaced population in the country.

Education Cannot Wait’s funds have helped to provide safe learning spaces to girls and boys in Yemen. Photo UNICEF Yemen

13 December 2019, New York – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$3 million first emergency response to support education in emergencies efforts for girls and boys who are affected by the escalating crisis in the Western Coastal governorates of Yemen, which are currently hosting more than one third of the 3.6 million internally displaced population in the country.

The 12-month programme will be implemented by the Education Cluster through a consortium of civil society partners led by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The investment will reach over 14,000 internally displaced and crisis-affected children in Hodeidah, Hajjah and Taizz,  with a special focus on girls and children with disabilities.

The programme builds on ECW’s US$15 million Initial Investment in Yemen launched in 2017, which has reached 1.3 million children and youth (45 per cent of whom are girls), including providing safe learning spaces to children,  supporting 1.2 million students in preparing and taking national exams, and paying incentives for teachers whose salaries were not paid in the affected regions of Yemen.

Yemen is considered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today with approximately 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – requiring some form of humanitarian or protection assistance. In all, approximately 4.7 million out of the total 7.5 million children in Yemen need humanitarian assistance to ensure continuation of their education, with 3.7 million classified as severe, and at least 2 million children being out of school across the country. Girls are more likely to lose out on education, with 36 per cent of all girls being out of school compared to 24 per cent of boys.

“Education is essential to rebuilding a strong and peaceful Yemen and protecting girls and boys from the devastating consequences of this conflict. Built in partnership with national partners, the Education Cluster and other key stakeholders, this emergency response will allow children and youth to quickly resume their education. This is a crucial step for them to recover from the severe impacts of displacement, poor health conditions, food insecurity and brutal poverty brought upon the people of Yemen for the past four years due to armed conflict,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait.

The investment will contribute to developing the capacity of educators to support learning and help children better cope with the stress and adversity that stem from enduring war and displacement, strengthening the coordination of Yemen’s education in emergency response, as well as providing much needed educational materials and supplies. To provide students with safe learning environments, the investment will rehabilitate damaged classrooms and build and repair water and sanitation facilities.

The first emergency response will address the needs of at least 10 per cent of the children in the targeted governorates. A US$64 million funding gap remains for the education in emergencies response in all of Yemen.

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About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):

ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure. 

To date, ECW investments span more than 30 countries affected by armed conflict, disaster and forced displacement.

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