Uganda: Taking care of more than the educational needs of refugees
21 October 2011

Refugee students in the JRS English class enjoy a trip to the Wildlife Education Centre. Entebbe, Uganda (JRS)
Since its inception in 1998, the Urban Refugee programme has supported more than 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Kampala.
Kampala, 21 October 2011 – In late September what at first glance seemed like a routine trip to the zoo, went a long way to bringing normality and as such important psychosocial benefits to refugee students in the JRS English class in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

In addition to providing language classes to help refugees integrate into their new communities, JRS addresses the often overlooked emotional needs by creating enjoyable, stress-free excursions for children and adults alike. For many refugees forced to leave home because of armed conflict or persecution, the trauma of the experience is an obstacle to creating a healthy life in their host country.

Accompanied by the JRS Urban Programme team on a sunny day in September, around 60 child and adult learners took a break from class to visit the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe, approximately 37km southwest of Kampala. The zoo guide, a soft spoken young woman, explained the names and origins of the animals to the students as they eagerly pointed their fingers at everything around them.

"They enjoyed the playful chimpanzees, listened to the sound of the birds and marvelled at the beautiful colours of the peacock. Although the big cats were sleeping, the students were still thoroughly impressed and excited to see a lion face-to-face. At the end of the tour, the children took a refreshing swim in the lake, while the adults rested beside the camels", said the JRS English language teacher, Sr Helen Tabea.

"They had a wow-experience!" explained JRS Urban Programme Director in Kampala, Stephen Kuteesa.

While most adults returned to Kampala exhausted and grateful for the fun day, the children's interest and curiosity was not yet satisfied. "We want to come back every week!" they cheered.

A holistic approach to emergency needs

Last year, JRS in Kampala decided to include educational and recreational visits as part of the regular curriculum. Such trips boost confidence among refugee students who face enormous challenges outside the classroom. In addition to practical language skills, instructors hope that refugees gain renewed energy and a fresh outlook on life.

In June 2010, more than 33,000 refugees and asylum seekers were living in Kampala. Like many asylum seekers and refugees, they are often destitute and disoriented, unsure of how to proceed. Some are afraid to register their presence in the country for fear of reprisal. Most come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi and Eritrea.

Since its inception in 1998, the Urban Refugee programme has supported more than 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Kampala. The programme responds to the urgent needs of newly-arrived asylum seekers and vulnerable refugees. It helps refugees survive through provision of information, food and non-food items, medical assistance, and transport, rent and psychosocial support. JRS also offers English language lessons and advocates for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 6897 7465