These are the shocking words of Barbara*, the mother of Sofia*, aged 12, and Renato, aged 1, who fled the conflict in South Sudan last year and reached the safety of a refugee settlement in Uganda.

Barbara, like thousands of vulnerable refugees, witnessed horrific violence - her husband was killed in front of her on their journey - and all she wants now is to keep her children safe from harm and to build a new future for her family. She lives in Rhino Camp in northern Uganda, which is now the third largest refugee hosting nation in the world. Barbara knows the importance of education for her children “if you are learned, the little information you got will empower the child to be independent, to be self-reliant”.           

Luckily her daughter Sofia, is enrolled in Save the Children’s Accelerated Learning Programme in Ariwa School where she’ll be able to catch up with her primary education and get back into mainstream learning.

An Education Emergency

But in Uganda right now there is an education emergency. With around half-a-million South Sudanese child refugees seeking assistance, Sofia’s school like the majority of schools in northern Uganda is severely overcrowded and lacks the resources need for a good learning environment.

We believe that every child has a right to a quality education. That’s why our Every Last Child campaign is advocating for every refugee child to have access to quality education, so that they’re protected, can continue with their studies and have a bright future.

But in Uganda, we’ve seen that temporary classrooms - created as a short-term fix to education needs and sometimes not more than a dark, hot tent - have already been washed away or damaged because of heavy rains. In some primary schools, up to 150 children are taught by one teacher.

The Government of Uganda has responded to the huge movement of vulnerable refugees into the country with extraordinary compassion and generosity – providing refuge in settlements, land to cultivate and access to public services like an education and healthcare. But as refugee numbers have increased, Uganda’s capacity to provide education has been stretched to breaking point. With half- a-million refugee children and host community children in desperate need of learning, action is needed now.

(Photo Credit: Juozas Cernius/Save the Children)

Restoring Hope, Rebuilding Futures

That’s why I’ve been working with colleagues in Uganda ahead of a make-or-break international pledging summit this week in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to voice the pleas of parents and children like Barbara and Sofia, and to call upon donors to urgently scale up their response to this education emergency and to commit the necessary funding to get all refugee children into school and learning.

Today, on World Refugee Day, we have launched a new plan of action – Restoring Hope, Rebuilding Futures - , which could deliver quality universal pre-school, primary and secondary education for South Sudanese refugee children in Uganda at a cost of $132 million US a year for three years. This represents just $152 US per child annually.

Among the priority areas of investment, the plan would fund:

  • Construction of 304 pre-primary and primary school sites using semi-permanent classrooms constructed to a standard conducive to learning.
  • Construction of 110 new secondary schools
  • Provision of reading materials, text books and school supplies to all schools.
  • Recruitment and payment of over 400 trained caregivers who will provide children with pre-primary learning opportunities.
  • The employment of 5,307 primary and secondary school teachers.
  • Recruitment, training and accreditation of 750 primary school teachers from South Sudan. 

If this plan does not get urgent funding then a whole generation of South Sudanese children will miss out – just think what this would mean for their futures.

A Shared Responsibility

So far, the international response to the unprecedented movement of refugees into Uganda has been inadequate. International donors have not met their commitment made at last year’s UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants to pledge support to low and middle income countries that host the most of the world’s refugees.

Uganda is endeavouring to meet its side of this Grand Bargain, now donors must meet theirs.

Save the Children is calling on donors at this week’s summit to pledge their support for our plan of action so that an education emergency can be averted and so that children like Sofia can have a brighter future.   

Providing refugees with an opportunity to learn is the building block for their recovery and a chance to reset their lives. We mustn’t fail them.