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Girls' Education Movement promotes schooling for vulnerable children in Uganda
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Peace Margaret is an orphan, a not uncommon fate in Uganda, where many children have lost their parents to AIDS and other diseases. after losing her parents, she dropped out of school to earn money as a housegirl. But a UNICEF-supported club – which a friend recommended to Peace Margaret – encouraged her to return to the classroom.
Support to stay in school
The question of leaving work was a difficult one, said Peace Margaret. But she added that the loss of her parents drove her to change her life.
"I realized that my parents are not there," she said. "So I say, let me go and study and maybe in the future become an important person, not a housegirl."
Peace Margaret joined a local club that is part of the Girls' Education Movement – or GEM – which was started in Uganda in 2001 with support from UNICEF. GEM has active chapters across sub-Saharan Africa, all with the same goal: to ensure that children like Peace Margaret have support to go to school, and stay in school.
The challenge is formidable in a country where census data reveal that more than 700,000 children aged 6 to 12 have never attended school. Roughly two out of three Ugandan children enrolled in primary school fail to complete their full primary education cycle.
Bringing children back to class
Mugenyi Mary Cleophas, the head teacher at Peace Margaret's school, said the GEM clubs are significantly improving the situation in the local community. "With the guidance and assistance of UNICEF, we have managed to bring back 54 children since 2007," she said. "They have now returned to school."
"Most of these children who have returned to school are very needy," said Ms. Cleophas. "They lack books. Some of them are from child-headed families. You find a child is there alone with the sisters and brothers: no father, no mother. The scourge – AIDS – has also disorganized us."
To prevent stressed and at-risk students from dropping out, the school has implemented a strict record-keeping system that alerts teachers to patterns of absenteeism.
The right to learn
Experts believe that efforts to expand primary education will pay dividends across many sectors in developing countries. School is essential for literacy, empowerment and economic growth. It's also the key to child survival and the healthy development of the next generation.
"As I was working, I saw that it I was gaining nothing," said Peace Margaret. "I'm very happy because now I'm in school.... And I'm proud because I'm going to complete my primary seven, joining secondary level."
In Uganda and around the world, every child has the right to learn. GEM clubs help students exercise this right, laying the foundation for a brighter future.