Uganda – January 2 2018

Photo essay: Learning under the trees

At the Palabek refugee settlement in Uganda, too few teachers struggle with a growing number of students

Sitting under a tree to shield herself from the blistering mid-day sun, Stella Aloyo Oryang chats with students as a few other teachers mark papers just within reach of the shade.
A sunny day during the northern Ugandan rainy season is good news – it means most students will stay at school. “When we see the rain coming,” Ms Aloyo Oryang says with the sweep of a hand, “the students have to go home.”
Ms Aloyo Oryang is head of World’s View Primary School at the Palabek refugee settlement. An estimated 37,000 South Sudanese settled here between April and late 2017, escaping violence and food insecurity at home.
Palabek is one of the newer settlements provided by the Ugandan government for the more than one million South Sudan refugees and asylum-seekers in the country. Most are living in the northern regions of Arua, Yumbe, Adjumani and Lamwo, where Palabek is located.
SOS Children’s Villages is considering an emergency response programme for the growing South Sudanese population in Uganda.
World’s View is one of six primary schools at Palabek and – like with the others – overcrowded temporary class space means learning takes place wherever shade can be found. There are 11,000 school-age children here, fewer than half of whom are registered, and there is only one secondary school. Two nearby Ugandan public schools have also opened their doors to refugee children.
Meanwhile, educational activities for children five and under are limited and often staffed by refugee mothers who volunteer.
This  photo essay illustrates a day in class – a day free of rain.

Photos by Will Boase

The lack of classroom space for the growing number of refugees means many children attend lessons anywhere they can find shade. At World’s View Primary School, 11 Ugandan and South Sudanese teachers have nearly 900 students, including more than 180 in early childhood education. “Every day the number is growing. Just today I registered 20 new students”, says Stella Aloyo Oryang, who heads World’s View.

A teacher At World’s View Primary School holds an English class in the shade of a tree. When it rains or students are hungry, they go home and often don’t return for the day.

International organisations have stepped in to provide books and teaching resources. “It’s not enough. When you have more children arriving every week, there are not enough books or resources to go around,” says one teacher at World’s View.

Ugandan officials and international aid organisations at Palabek and other refugee settlements across the northern regions have struggled to keep up with the rising numbers of South Sudanese refugees – most of them women and children. “It is very challenging teaching because you have to employ skills you’ve never had to use before”, says Ms Aloyo Oryang. Illiteracy or limited schooling for parents is also another challenge. “We have mothers learning in school with their children”, the school head adds.

School attendance can be spotty. There are no school lunches, so students who go home to eat often don’t return. During the monthly food distribution days “they don’t bother to come to school”, one primary school teacher from South Sudan explained.

Secondary school classes at Palabek are being held outdoors until classrooms can be built. Educators say school attendance drops sharply at the secondary level, with many girls staying home to help care for their families.

Louis Apenya, Programme Director for SOS Children’s Village Entebbe, visits World’s View to see what programmes are available for pre-school children. In many cases, early childhood development classes are led by untrained volunteers from the refugee community.

Shortages of classrooms and resources are not the only challenges teachers face. “Some of these children have suffered terribly through war, hunger or abuse. It is hard to help one child when there are hundreds more like them,” one Ugandan teacher at Glory Land said.

Teachers are given short-term contracts to leave their home schools and teach at Palabek. Some live in tents on the school grounds and travel home when they can. The head of World’s View Primary School says despite the challenges and hardships, they “want to see these children happy and smile. That brings us happiness.”

Read related articles about SOS Children’s Villages work in Uganda:
Rebuild: Strengthening refugee and local families
Photo essay: Children at risk

Homepage of SOS Children's Villages Uganda