In two communities in Northern Uganda, ACCI field workers Russell and Jenny Barton are helping ensure Uganda’s most vulnerable children can realise their right to an education. With a focus on orphaned and vulnerable children (who may live in their family of origin, or in kinship or foster care), their scholarship program covers the costs of any school and examination fees, uniforms, textbooks and school lunches – all things which form barriers to education for impoverished families. This support not only gives children the opportunity to learn, and gain the tools that will help them create a brighter future for themselves; it also helps keep families together, by alleviating the pressure of supporting children through their schooling.
The Barton’s realise, however, that it’s not just being in school that counts but ensuring children can access quality education. That’s why their work also includes capacity training for teachers and schools, as well as assistance with building repairs and renovations. “It’s extremely difficult for children living in poverty to gain access to education, and in most cases the teachers aren't being paid and lack motivation to teach, [and may] have inadequate training,” Russell says. “We come alongside communities and try to empower and strengthen them – strengthening schools is a strategic part of that.” By strengthening local schools – rather than, for example, sending their scholarship students to more developed urban schools – the Barton’s are not only helping create a better learning experience for all students living in these areas; they’re also creating a sustainable response to the problems in Uganda’s education system.
Further to their education work, the Barton’s also plant churches; provide business start-up training and literacy and English classes to vulnerable families; offer both school and community-based chaplaincy programs; provide emergency support for struggling families; run a day care centre to support vulnerable women caring for children and operate a community library.
Stephen was only a year old when his father died of HIV/AIDS. When he was nine, his mother also died from the disease. His early childhood was one of constant struggle and wishing for something better …
“My childhood was difficult and it became even more difficult when my mother passed away,” he recalls. “I was lonely, afraid and hopeless … When I would see my friends with their parents I felt empty and sad because mine had gone."
“There were times when I would walk through the slums of Kampala, filled with rubbish everywhere, and what I really wanted was to be in school. Most children have dreams, for example becoming a teacher or a pilot but for me, what I only wanted was to survive.”
When Stephen received support through Operation Uganda to attend primary and then secondary school, he says “everything changed”.
“Education to me was like a doorway because it opened opportunities for me,” he explains.
Stephen worked hard and after great results at secondary school, received support from the government to study medicine at university. He’s looking forward to completing his studies and one day working to help improve the health of those living in his community.
“I love studying medicine, it’s rewarding and purposeful … [and] my ambition of becoming a doctor is to serve my community and save lives,” Stephen concludes.