Teacher Stories: Alice - Palabek Refugee Settlement, Uganda
This story was collected as part of Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) Event Series to ensure that the voices and experiences of teachers working in crisis and displacement permeate all aspects of the event. For more stories, click here.
'We Consider All the Children Our Own Regardless of Their Backgrounds'
Name: Alice Abdul
Age: 28 years old
School: Lugwar Primary School
Location: Palabek Refugee Settlement, Uganda
Lugwar Primary School is located in Uganda in the community that houses Palabek refugee settlement. When Abdul Alice came to the school as a teacher two years ago, only few of the pupils were refugees – it was, by and large, an ordinary Ugandan village school.
And yet. Just like Alice herself, the majority of the population in this part of the country relocated as a consequence of the civil war that raged in the northern part of the country for years. Many of the children have grown up in settlements for internally displaced persons and did not return until the time the war in South Sudan began to send waves of refugees to Palabek.
Today, Lugwar Primary School therefore teaches Ugandans who grew up in the area, Ugandans who were displaced and only recently returned home, and South Sudanese refugees who have come to Uganda looking for safety and a future.
"I can tell that the children in this school are different from other pupils I have taught. A lot of them have lost their sense of belonging and the strong family narratives that used to guide their morals and give them direction in life. They have less respect for me as a teacher", says Alice Abdul.
Her own story is not that different from the pupils’, and she knows how much she has enjoyed recreating ties to her family history, culture and values. She, therefore, makes an effort to teach the children culture and traditions and to make them curious about their own and each other’s history and backgrounds.
Alice grew up in a settlement for internally displaced persons in Lugwar south of Palabek. Here she has made a home for herself, and this is where she lives with her husband and two young children. Well, in fact, she currently has two homes, because the commute from the family home to the school is so long that she is unable to get there and back again on weekdays. So during the week she and her two children live in a small storage room in the school, and when she is teaching she pays one of the neighbours to look after her children.
"Working as a teacher in Palabek right now is challenging, no doubt about it. Because of the large number of refugees, there are too many children per class. We need teaching resources and books. We need accommodation for teachers like me who come from far away. We need money to maintain the school and in particular to receive further training in helping children who have suffered severe trauma or who have fallen behind and are now much older than their classmates", says Alice Abdul.
"But, that is why I wanted to become a teacher – to help children who really need schooling and a helping hand. And these children do", she says.
The job at Lugwar Primary School is her fourth since graduating as a teacher. Previously, she worked in two other schools in Uganda, and in 2000 she traveled to South Sudan to work at a school there. She grew fond of the country, and today she can tell that it has a positive effect on the refugee children in Lugwar when she tells them of having been to their country, knowing what their lives used to be – before the war came and forced them to live as refugees.
"Refugee children have seen things, they should not have and that clearly affects them. But it matters that we consider all the children our own, regardless of their background", Alice Abdul says and adds: "Here children are united across nationalities, and we do everything we can to make sure they all thrive".
*This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.