Uganda: JRS Kindergarten gives children a chance to enjoy childhood
06 June 2013

A child happily waves while being held by a JRS staff member during a refugees day out organised by JRS in Kampala, Uganda (Jana Benz/JRS).
Visiting the JRS Kampala office during morning hours, you are welcomed by a blend of melodies, a mix of songs and noise.
Kampala, 6 June 2013 - In a refugee situation, children are by far the most affected. They are deprived of parental love, care, a chance to learn, play and more importantly, the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. Owing to this background, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Kampala opened up an early childhood development center in 2012, accommodating 50 refugee children ranging between 4 to 10years, majority being Congolese.

Since its inception, the class has seen major changes in the lives of the children. With the skills and experience of the kindergarten class instructor, the children have been transformed from "little, shy boys and girls" to vivid, promising, responsible individuals. The kindergarten gives them a chance to express and achieve their childhood desires. They learn, play, sing, dance, shade and share things.

The kindergarten. Visiting the JRS Kampala office during morning hours, you are welcomed by a blend of melodies, a mix of songs and noise. In the classroom tent (branded the young stars), they proudly refer to themselves as being clever and bright. "We are clever, we are clever …."

The kindergarten class provides 3-hour lessons to the children, 5 days a week. They are taught how to write, read, count, sing and physical education. "We like our class, our teacher Sylvia and JRS" is the response from the children when asked to say something about the class. As part of boosting the learning process, JRS provides the children with break time snacks two days in a week.

The need. Assessments indicate an increase in the number of urban refugee/asylum seeker children (accompanied and unaccompanied) whose education needs are unmet hence being vulnerable and prone to social evils, exploitation and abuse. Unaccompanied minors join the streets for survival yet their accompanied counterparts, stays back home not attended to by their guardians/parents who move out to look for the daily survival. "I want to study but my mother said she does not have money…. I collect scrap for money…" explains 8 year old Congolese boy.

Some parents of these children also come to attend English language classes at JRS. The children continuously play in the compound as they wait for the time to go home. "The opening of this center has saved me … I was worried of what will be of my little boy…. today the center is his home during the day…" says Mama Joseline (not real names).

Refugee children need to live to full their childhood in spite of their circumstances. Therefore, JRS Kampala will continue to accompany children in a refugee situation as embedded in its three pillar mission of accompany, serving and advocating for the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced persons.

By Kuteesa Stephen, Country Representative, JRS Kampala Uganda

JRS has been working in Kampala since 1998, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of newly arrived 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 increase opportunities to earn a living and support themselves.

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