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Refugee-Led Organizations Can Deliver Education to Refugee Children During COVID-19 & Beyond

By Joseph Munyambanza

When I was six years old my family moved to Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda. For two decades, I called Kyangwali my village and home. Every day, for seven years, I walked kilometers to and from school before completing my primary school in Kyangwali. When I went to secondary school and university outside the refugee settlement, I was inspired and excited to go back to work with, and support, fellow refugee youth. In collaboration with my colleagues in the settlement, we established CIYOTA, an organization that promotes education and entrepreneurial leadership to enhance refugee resilience and self-sustainability.

The lived experience of young people in the refugee camps, who have worked to find real solutions to complex challenges, is the greatest tool that humanitarian organizations can capitalize on to achieve sustainable solutions and give hope to refugees. Despite being through a lot and having little or nothing to live on, refugee youth around the world have created a productive life by establishing schools and businesses that have increased access to education, enhanced sustainable livelihood in their communities, and contributed to the economy of the host countries.

CIYOTA set up innovative, high-quality primary through secondary school programs in resource-constrained contexts; and used applied social leadership and entrepreneurship to address local problems. Today, CIYOTA programs under the leadership of NziyonviraNtakamaze, a refugee and alumni of the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, are educating over 2,000 refugee children

CIYOTA is just one example of what refugee youth around the world are doing. In Kyangwali refugee settlement alone, there are six other primary schools founded and run by refugees. These schools together are educating about 5,000 children without any external donations. Besides producing the most competitive children in the national exams, these schools work with parents and guardians in the refugee camp to provide breakfast and lunch to learners.

When COVID-19 caused the closure of schools around Uganda, the refugee-led school leaders came together to re-imagine how to safely continue to deliver education to learners who have no access to radios or technology they needed to learn. By working with Parents’ Teachers Associations to provide mentorship and guidance to secondary school students, by providing upper primary school lessons using a combination of hand-written notes, recorded WhatsApp audios and videos, and by enabling children to access Ministry of Education online lessons, refugee-led organizations have continued to show their adaptive and resilient ways to own solutions to their challenges. Youth have volunteered to give families accurate information on COVD-19 and have reached out to refugees who were resettled to developed countries to request contributions of food, soap, and other basic support for the most vulnerable members of the community.

Over the past few weeks, I participated in brainstorming sessions with these young entrepreneurial educators to uncover ideas that will enable continued learning and catch up after COVID-19. The team in Kyangwali refugee settlement plans to scale their learning adaptations and support other organizations in the community to make sure the 25,000 school children do not dropout due to the current crisis.

As we celebrate refugees’ resilience, let us approach our work with humility, respect, and with listening. Then, encourage and invest in internally conceived innovative solutions to support access to quality education, create employment, and address other pressing issues that threaten refugee communities’ sustainability.

The writer is the Youth Engagement & Inclusion Consultant, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program and Founding Member, COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA)

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