It is dawn. Children living in a refugee camp in Uganda’s Adjumani district are rushing to get to primary school, ready for their lessons that begin at 7 o’clock in the morning.
Mary, 8, is one of the first to arrive. Many of the pupils, including Mary, are refugees, having fled from South Sudan as a result of the conflict that has engulfed their country.
Learning numeracy and literacy skills
Not long after arriving in Uganda in 2015, Mary was enrolled at one of Plan International’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centres. With the support of trained caregivers, children up to the age of six are able to learn basic numeracy and literacy skills and can enjoy reading, singing and playing at the 27 centres constructed at three refugee camps in Northern Uganda. The centres, which have been certified by the Ministry of Education, are open for three hours a day from 8am to 11am.
Over 10,000 refugee children now have access to learning through Plan International’s ECCD centres.
”Plan International is committed to increasing children’s access to education in a safe and protected learning environment. Our unique ECCD model supports children to have a healthy start in life, have early stimulation, improved their social skills and prepare for transition to primary school,” explains Rashid Javed, Plan International Country Director.
Now in her second year at primary school, Mary still has many good memories of the centre. "Before I joined the primary school, I went to Plan International's ECCD centre. My favorite teacher was Yaba. I had a good time and learned a lot, both numbers and songs."
Mary looked forward to breaktime the most. “One difference between the ECCD centre and primary school is that we used to eat porridge during the morning break. There is no porridge at this school."
Vital first step into education
After a fun filled year of lessons at the ECCD centre, Mary was excited to be enrolled at primary school at the beginning of 2016. "I attend school between 7am and 1pm every day.”
Mary’s favourite subject is writing, although she is sometimes disappointed that she does not have any school supplies. "In the morning I wash myself and then I go to school so I can learn to write. I like to write. I don't have my own pencil but I borrow one."
At the end of the school day, Mary runs home to find her mother has prepared lunch for the family. After she has eaten, Mary helps her mother with household chores. "After school I help my mother wash the dishes and clean the compound.”
Promoting equality in education
Thousands of children affected by the South Sudan conflict are missing out on an education, so it is cause for celebration, that over 10,000 refugee children now have access to learning through Plan International’s ECCD centres, which are providing children with a vital first step into education.
Plan International Uganda is taking steps to ensure its ECCD programmes are gender-transformative, including encouraging girls to take the lead in classroom activities, employing female teachers and caregivers and providing IEC materials with gender-transformative messaging.