Protection and education of street-connected children in Mbale, Uganda
Lesley Waller and Moses Bwayo
Africa Educational Trust (AET) works to build education systems that provide education for all, while meeting the needs of people who are most excluded from education. In looking to support educational opportunities for street-connected children, they initiated a partnership with the Ugandan organisation Child Restoration Outreach (CRO) in 2011, to strengthen support in the areas of education and child protection.
CRO has been working with street-connected children and youth in Mbale since 1992, providing holistic support through services to address hunger, health needs, resettlement, counselling, access to education and family empowerment. CRO’s approach to enabling these children to access formal schooling starts with daily street visits by the staff to identify children, build trust and empower them to make their own decisions to leave the street. Once ready, the children enrol in school preparation classes at CRO’s centre. After a year, the children are enrolled in mainstream schools or vocational training, depending on their age and ability.
Project design started with a needs assessment with current and former street-connected children. This aimed to understand their day-to-day challenges and how we could best support them to access quality education. We conducted focus groups with 50 current and former street-connected children, and consultations with teachers, community members, and district officials. Representatives of CRO, local government and head teachers took part in a planning workshop to verify findings and use lessons learnt to inform project design.
AET was involved in three key areas of intervention, supported by the Big Lottery Fund. These interventions were based on the premise that enabling street-connected children to return to and succeed in education requires them to be empowered to bridge the gap from street life to school and family life, and requires the creation of support structures at school, community and district level.
- Developing the skills and confidence to transition successfully back to school
The project provides support to enable new cohorts of children to access CRO’s school preparation classes, counselling and recreation activities, and increased resourcing for these activities. Qualified teachers deliver classes in literacy, numeracy and life skills at CRO’s day centre. This helps children to catch up with aspects of education they missed when they were on the streets. The learning activities run alongside psychosocial support and recreational activities that enable children to build resilience to cope with difficult situations, enhance confidence, boost interest in the preparation classes and support children to drop street habits such as substance abuse.
- Improving inclusion in mainstream schools and the quality of education for street-connected children
Government primary schools in Mbale are overcrowded and under-resourced. This creates a challenging teaching environment where specific needs and learning outcomes for children are difficult to identify. Street-connected children may struggle to adjust to formal schooling and may face stigma from classmates and teachers. To address this, we have trained teachers about child protection and inclusive education, to enable them to better support street-connected children. The training covered areas such as child abuse, alternative discipline, and child participation, and provided a forum for the discussion of issues faced by vulnerable children. We used the testimonies of former street-connected children to provide examples of what children can achieve with support, and advocated for the equal treatment of street-connected children with other children.The project built the capacity of Parent-Teacher Associations and School Management Committees to take ownership of planning and implementing school improvements. They consult with teachers and pupil committees to create and agree school development plans, which inform annual budgets to improve learning environments: e.g. improving water and sanitation, renovating classrooms and providing equipment for sport and craft activities.Peer mentoring clubs provide opportunities for street-connected children to work alongside other children in schools to develop their ability to support each other, reduce irregular attendance and improve literacy and life skills. To develop business skills, raise funds for school development, and subsidise fees for the children participating, the schools were encouraged to choose a school enterprise project and develop a business plan. The children took responsibility for planning and running the business. In one school, the children formed a music and dance group. They have grown in confidence, able to express themselves on key issues such as girls’ rights to education.
- Community and district level advocacy to improve understanding of and support for street-connected children
Education happens within the wider context of the local community. The project has enabled CRO to develop awareness and advocacy activities to challenge the negative attitudes towards street-connected children and build systems to support their resettlement. These activities include quarterly radio talk shows on topics such as skillful parenting, mentoring, career guidance, domestic violence, child rights and preventing children coming to the streets. Training has been provided to Community Child Protection Committees to prevent and respond to child abuse in the community. They also advise parents on good parenting skills, and work with police on monitoring the situation of children on the street. Quarterly day and night surveys collect information on the number of children on the streets, the reasons they are there, and the activities they are engaged in. This data is shared with local government and used to lobby for legislation on the protection of vulnerable children. As part of this wider advocacy approach, we collaborated with the Probation and Social Welfare Officer to establish a desk in the District Education Office to support the reintegration of street-connected children and strengthen the role of local authorities in child protection.
Challenges and the way forward
Although this project has been successful in enabling access to education, continued attendance in schools requires the ability to meet the costs of fees and resources (despite Uganda offering Universal Primary Education there are additional costs to parents for exam fees, uniforms and resource costs, etc.). Meeting this need through financial support is unsustainable in the longer term. To address this, we plan to enable families of street-connected children to contribute to their child’s education in the longer term through initiating self-help groups and income-generating activities to help alleviate poverty and address one of the key causes of children coming to the street.
Lesley Waller is Senior Programme Coordinator at AET and Moses Bwayo is Programme Manager at CRO Mbale