Ugandan students were delighted to return to school on 10 January. Schools had been closed for almost two years – the longest in the world. The government ran out of funds and could not distribute lessons or fund broadcasts after the first months of lockdown. The consequences have been devastating for children across the country. In August last year the government planning authority calculated 4.5 million of an estimated 15 million students would not return. Enrolment data is not yet available.
UNICEF says the loss of learning through the pandemic was “nearly insurmountable”. Two years after the start of Covid more than 635 million children remain affected. Before the pandemic, 130 million girls were out of school. The numbers are likely to have increased.
In Isingiro District, where Christian World Service partner the Centre for Community Solidarity is based, the impact of the lockdown has been most severe for the families of HIV and AIDS affected children.
Director Charles Rwabambari says the students are excited to be back at school. The teachers are doing their best in poor classroom conditions with high student ratios. The students have been enrolled a year above where they were two years ago but many have forgotten much of what they had learned.
Katusiime is one student that has returned. She can be found in her year six class, breastfeeding her new baby in one arm while writing with the other. Fortunately the authorities have given permission for this 16-year-old to reenroll at her local primary school.
One of Katusiime’s jobs is to walk three kilometres to collect drinkable water from the rock tank. On the way home one evening last year she was raped. She told her grandmother but she was too old and vulnerable to do anything. In time Katusiime gave birth and now she combines schooling with childcare and looking after her grandmother.
One reason students have not returned is because of poverty. During lockdown, students found low paying work or sometimes started their own businesses to meet the economic gap that has accompanied the pandemic. Their families need that income to survive now and cannot afford to pay the costs of going to school. Others have returned but cannot afford masks, shoes, books or uniforms.
“Getting girls back to school is a real challenge but necessary for the vital work of improving gender justice,” says Murray Overton, National Director of CWS.
Gender justice is the focus for CWS’s Summer Appeal. Donations can be made at cws.org.nz or 0800 74 73 72.