Refugee Camp, Dadaab, Kenya Edwina Pickles/Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

The Power of Empowering Refugees

For many refugees, access to education is the key to a more prosperous future. In Uganda, a unique refugee-led initiative has converted donor support into a sustainable school system and training program that provides a blueprint for self-sufficiency for displaced people everywhere.

KAMPALA – In a small community on the equator, children from diverse backgrounds attend classes in one of the region’s top primary schools. The school has a brass band, a farm, an artists’ collective, microfinance and literary clubs, and support groups for victims of domestic violence. There is even a mentorship program to help girls affected by conflict continue their studies.

This educational paradise is not in a rich country with unlimited resources; it is in a refugee camp in western Uganda. It is funded not by infusions of foreign aid, but by refugees operating on a tight budget. And it is a blueprint for empowering refugees everywhere.

This experiment in refugee education began in 2005, when I and other children were living in the Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda’s Hoima district. With little food and limited access to health care, we struggled to survive; formal schooling was out of the question. But, because we understood that education was the key to prosperity, we taught each other what we could. Older students tutored younger students and everyone worked to earn money to buy textbooks and uniforms.

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