(Kampala) February 13, 2013 — There is so much in the world that requires human attention, understanding and patience. The English class of 2012, part of the Jesuit Refugee Service Urban Refugee Project in Kampala, Uganda, had 166 learners including children and adults. One could see the eagerness on their faces and the anxiety of learning a new language.
In this class there were various categories of learners. There were those who could read and write, others who could listen but not write, some who have never gone through formal education but are interested in learning English and lastly the children and babies who just liked to be carried and held.
To solve this problem, a nursery school was created for the children with the help of a student intern and later a volunteer teacher, Miss Silvia, who came to our aid. It was quite difficult for us to keep the children busy because we had the main class of adults while at the same time providing attention to the children.
They were always at the door with the words, “tunataka kusoma mwalimu (teacher we want to learn...).” It was a very painful sentence to me as it touched my heart and my whole being.
During our staff meetings, there was always a discussion about the children with my only comment being, “Do not send them away.” This was because the words of the children remained in me and to tell them to go away would have been so painful.
The most amazing part was that they were always the first in the compound, picking leaves and papers, cleaning their classroom (a tent), singing, playing and praying. One just needs to hear and feel their joy. The innocence that comes with joy and spice of happiness that they are in school learning how to read and write, the energy they use to pronounce the words and appreciate one another. Their common words were, “You are clever, you are clever.” In total, there were 45 children who gained knowledge at JRS Kampala in 2012.
Meanwhile there is so much to do for the teachers. Not only the teaching but also the psychosocial part of these learners required a lot of attention and care; the pain of living in a foreign land where there is little to live on, beginning with basic human needs to health problems.
Children and adults could eat once a day or not at all but the following day they would be back to class. The symptoms one could note are yawning and tears but they still afford to give a smile and joke so amazingly.
End of the journey
Those who came to us unable to speak in English are now talking and challenging the teacher. They hold discussions in English and help to translate for the new comers, read and write perfectly. They are happy to communicate in the new language.
The joy of graduation could be seen in the pictures of them receiving certificates and cutting the cake. "God bless JRS," were their departing words on the graduation day.
By Sr. Tabea Hellene, JRS Kampala
JRS has been working in Kampala since 1998, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of new arrivals (asylum seekers and refugees) in vulnerable circumstances. For refugees fleeing conflict, civil unrest or oppressive political circumstances, the JRS Urban Emergency Programme provides information, food and non-food items, rent and medical assistance, transport and psychosocial support. JRS also offers English language lessons and vocational training courses to enable refugees earn a living and support themselves.