Fr Tom visits JRS Uganda
Jesuit Missions supports Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in East Africa. Some of the money raised by this year’s London Marathon team will be used to support JRS East Africa’s education projects in northern Uganda working with South Sudanese refugees. Currently Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa. The official figures put the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda at 1,395,146, most of whom from South Sudan.
Fr Thomas Smolich SJ, International Director of JRS, recently visited Uganda and witnessed the commitment to the service and accompaniment of the refugee population in Uganda, particularly in the area of education.
In the capital Kampala, Fr Tom interacted with many of the refugees supported by the JRS urban project which provides a number of services including basic needs assistance to the most vulnerable refugees and livelihood programs aimed at building the refugees’ self-reliance. The livelihood programs include skills training in hairdressing, fashion and design, arts and crafts, basic computer skills, catering, and electronics.
Most urban refugees in Uganda come from non-English speaking countries such as DR Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, so JRS complements their skills training with an English course and basic business skills to boost their chances of finding employment.
JRS have been working in Adjumani district, northern Uganda, since 2016 in response to the massive influx of South Sudanese refugees fleeing the violence that followed the collapsed of the 2015 South Sudan peace agreement.
Since 2018, JRS is an UNHCR implementing partner for education and the number of supported schools have increased from 5 to 15. In addition to offering scholarships, JRS programs in Adjumani include teacher training, provision of text books, peace education, co-curricular activities as well as helping to keep girls in school by providing them with hygiene materials.
In Adjumani, Fr Tom visited four secondary schools, and in his interactions with the students he spoke about the importance of education and why it is one of the main focuses of JRS and Jesuit Missions alike. Unlike the things they might have left behind when they fled their homes, education is something that cannot be lost, “It’s always in your backpack. Nobody can take it away from you, wherever you may go.”
Addressing the girls at St. Mary Assumpta Secondary School, he spoke of the power of education to make a difference, saying, “education is what changes lives, not just your own life, but the life of your families, the life of your friends, the life of your communities, the life of your countries, the life of the world.”
Another area of concern for refugee education in Adjumani is gender inequality. The enrolment rate for girls in secondary school is significantly lower than for boys.
Faced with limited resources, many parents prefer to educate boys seeing this as a more worthy investment. But apart from the economic factor, there are other contributing factors including early forced marriages, teenage pregnancies, and cultural views about the role of women according to which girls are supposed to stay at home taking care of household chores.
Fr Tom insisted on the importance of keeping girls in school, saying, “our societies, our countries, our world is better when ladies and gentlemen participate as equals, when boys and girls have the same opportunities.”