Young Refugee Girls Share Their Struggles & Inspirations
By: Brittni Devlin
All over the world, thousands of refugees seek safety in other countries, escaping their homes and abandoning all they had ever known. For many refugees, peace isn’t something that comes easy. The arrival in your new home doesn’t exactly mark you as “safe” just yet. Many individuals flee the problems of their home countries only to face even more obstacles before they manage to really settle down again. For many children fleeing to Uganda, these obstacles can be deadly. These children are often unable to enroll in school, leaving them to fend for themselves all day and try to find ways to make ends meet for their basic necessities.
For young girls, the refugee transition can be especially difficult. In times of financial struggle, many families expect the girls to drop out and help take care of the family. In a situation that is far too common, young girls are married off that that their families can get ahold of a dowry. Education is, sadly, not always seen as I priority for girls, making it harder for them to finish their schooling, pursue careers, and escape poverty. These situations make for young refugee girls to be especially vulnerable the struggles of refugee status. Instances of sexual violence, child labor, and even child marriage are a harsh reality for the female refugee children.
Many believe that getting these children off the streets and into the classroom can change that.
When a child is in the classroom, they are kept safe from the dangers of the street. Homework keeps them busy and they are much less likely to get tangled up in adult quarrels. For refugee children that sometimes face opposition of their arrival, school can be a sanctuary. These children have been forced to leave everything they have ever known to live in a new country where they are faced with even further obstacles. School provides them a place where they can interact with a group of their peers and they can have fun and build relationships when they need them most. Additionally, these children are then given life skills that not only improve their quality of life in the near future, but it also provides them with the skills they need to better their future.
Unfortunately, getting these girls in school is not as easy as filling out some enrollment papers. While the Ugandan government is required to offer schooling to refugees, there is not always enough resources to provide for the flood of refugee children that arrive in their country. These refugees often arrive with nothing more that the clothes on their backs and what they could carry. It is unlikely that any of them would have (or could afford) to get their child the required uniforms, textbooks, and school supplies.
Meet 15 year old Diana
Photo Credit: Girl Up
Diana lives in constant feel that without a scholarship for her education, she would be forced into marriage due to her family’s poor financial status. It may seem unbelievable that a school age child would think this way, but sadly, child marriage is a harsh reality for many young girls in Uganda. In fact, Girl’s not Brides reports that almost 50% of Ugandan girls wed before they even turn 18. In addition to the unsettling facts of life there, her very sister met the same fate when she was forced to cut her education short and marry an older man when she was 17 in order to cover her mother’s medical bills.
Monica tells her story
Photo Credit: Girl Up
Monica has always had a passion to learn, unfortunately, her dreams had to be put on hold. When her home in South Sudan became a war zone, schools were forced to close for the safety of the students. Although she was Eager to get back to learning when she arrived in Uganda, getting her back in school was a struggle as many are barred from an education due to their refugee status. Recognizing her fortune of being able to get back in the classroom, she aims to finish her education and get herself right back to South Sudan. While she admits she greatly misses the friends and family she had to leave behind when she fled, her real reason of going back is ambitious. She hopes that she can become an engineer and help rebuild her fallen country.
Lillian is just 13
Photo Credit: Girl Up
Like other refugees like Monica, Lillian had an especially hard time getting into a classroom. Classroom space is limited and it can be especially difficult for refugee children to gain that coveted spot. Luckily, Lilian was able to get the support she needed. Unfortunately, Lillian admits that it is still a struggle to stay in school as she is experiencing a harsh transition to Uganda from her life in Rwanda. Between the financial burdens of poverty and difficulty trying to grasp why she had to leave everything behind, the school-aged girl faced constant harassment and has limited access to health care. She dreams of one day becoming a doctor and going to the U.S. to finish her education when she’s older.
Learn about Anita
Photo Credit: Girl Up
Anita is a top performing student at her school, defying expectations and combating statistics. Being a first-generation refugee as well as the oldest child in a single parent house hold with three younger siblings, the odds were stacked against her. Her family situation put her under a lot of pressure to quit school and start working at home. Anita, however took control of her future and continues to stay in school with full intentions of seeing it through. Her father morally supports her due to the fact that she has gotten all costs covered by earning scholarship. Because her education is completely reliant off of outside funding, and she hopes that the 20 hours a week she dedicates to studying in primary school will allow her to keep the grades she needs to maintain scholarships.
Sadly, there are thousands of children who fail to get the help that Monica, Anita, Lilian, and Diana were fortunate enough to receive. These children fall victim to the harsh reality of their word. Without the help they need, these children end up the victims of violence, abuse, and marriage. The refugee situation in the world is critical. Hundreds of thousands of families misplaced for reasons out of there control.
Girl Up, 4 Refugee Girls in Uganda Share Their Stories, Beth Nervig, Nov. 23, 2016