JRS adult literacy training in Kitgum was a major step towards peace and reconciliation. Angelika Mendes/JRS

Kitgum, 1 September 2012 - Education is an important tool for peace-building. After a conflict, communities need to develop their skills in order to move forward with their lives and to prevent a return to negative coping strategies. In Kitgum, many people missed out on education due to the conflict and so there were huge needs for functional adult literacy (FAL) and basic educational skills, as well as vocational training.

Education as a tool for peace-building

JRS started education activities in Kitgum District in 2007, believing them to be important methods of providing hope for the many IDPs affected by war and trauma. Education as a right for all was emphasised, and community members were encouraged to turn to education as a source of inspiration for the future. Education can be a protecting force - reducing the mental stress of forced displacement, preventing people from entering into further dealings with armed groups, reducing the prevalence of SGBV and protecting children from exploitation. With increased literacy, people can also better understand crucial information such as landmines safety, how to resolve conflict amicably and the simple, yet essential, reading of signs and medicine bottles.

War takes away all sense of normalcy, all of life's basic requirements. It is easy to fall victim to feelings of hopelessness and despair. However, education can restore hope and help people to realise they are not alone. With education, a sense of working towards a better future can be felt - even if things may not be good now, with education there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

JRS Community College

The JRS Community College was founded in 2007 and focused on two different sets of vocational skills - catering and carpentry and joinery. The college targeted vulnerable youth, young mothers, formerly-abducted youths, school dropouts and children from poor families. The one-year courses prepared students for employment, as well as teaching life skills and coping strategies. Over the course of its two years of operations, a total of 132 youths were trained.

The students had all experienced varying levels of trauma and it was felt support was needed to help fully revitalise and reshape their lives to allow them to reintegrate fully. Interpersonal relationship skills, goal-setting, counseling and even basic Maths and English were interwoven with the technical skills.

The final phase in the training programme involved a practical internship - attachment to an established local firm. Students joined restaurants and carpentry workshops to practice their skills in a real-life setting. After assessment and evaluation, the students received some final employment preparation training and entrepreneurship advice. Now ready for the world of work, they left the college equipped with start-up tools provided by Associazione Volontari per Servizio Internationale (AVSI) and JRS, ready to create their own jobs in their own communities.

Functional adult literacy (FAL)

After realising that due to the conflict, many of the displaced population could not read, write or do simple arithmetic, FAL classes were started under the psychosocial programme in 2006. However by 2009, the FAL classes had been transferred to the education programme, their goal being to give illiterate IDPs and returnees an educational base that would lead them to life-long learning and provide meaningful survival skills.

The programme aimed to teach three main subjects - reading, writing and numeracy - with the objective of encouraging participants to share their ideas with others and work out solutions to their daily problems. A supportive learning environment encouraged students to develop logical thinking and better judgement of everyday situations.

In 2007 and 2008, some FAL training was carried out under the psychosocial programme, however from 2009 to 2011, a number of
courses (usually lasting six months) were established and run at the camps and return centres. By the end of each course, students felt very positive about FAL and were able to communicate much more easily and freely. An added strand to the course was the training of students in agriculture techniques to help them to capitalise on future livelihoods opportunities.

JRS was careful to ensure that adult learners were not isolated from their family members and that there was flexibility in terms of accommodating their daily working schedules. It was acknowledged that FAL students have their own unique characteristics and
can be slow to learn, fearful of ridicule and need close personal attention, recognition and respect. JRS factored this into the programme design and tried to mitigate potential problems such as absenteeism and lack of support from family members.

On completing the course, FAL students were enlightened as to the importance of education and this had a knock-on effect in terms of them sending their own children to school. As one participant said: 'The JRS adult literacy programme is very good, but one day it will not need to continue - one day illiteracy will no longer exist.'

By Moses Obong, Education Coordinator, JRS Kitgum

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