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Spotlight on Santina: a young girl finds her way to education in a refugee settlement in Uganda


Advocacy | Inclusion | Laws | Uganda | PUBLISHED ON April 9th 2024
Santina, 13, during a session with HI occupational therapist and her mother.

Santina, 13, during a session with HI occupational therapist and her mother. | © A. Beaujolais / HI

Santina is a young girl, 13 years old. She always has a contagious smile on her face and loves to meet new people. She settled with her mother, five sisters and two brothers in the Rhino Camp refugee settlement in north-western Uganda, after fleeing South Sudan.

When Santina was 6 or 7 years old, her mother remembers that the girl had an episode of high fever that lasted for several days and that she was having seizures. Her mother took her to the health facility where she was treated. But when the fever and seizures subsided, it was discovered that Santina had suffered a brain injury. Her left arm and leg remained paralysed and her cognitive abilities were affected.

Her mother recalls: "My daughter experienced limitations in many activities. She could not move outside of the yard on her own, she could not help with daily chores like cooking or sweeping the floor".

Santina started studying four years ago in a primary school 2 km from her home. She is now in the fourth year of primary school and loves going to school. "I like writing and reading the most. I also like to play football with my friends, and my friends at school are all girls," she says. However, there are activities that she found difficult, especially those that require the use of both hands, such as manipulating a ruler.

Santina was identified by HI at school through the Education Cannot Wait - First Emergency Response project. Following an assessment, HI provided her with learning materials including books, pens, crayons, puzzles and games to improve her learning skills. She is supported by HI occupational therapists and physiotherapists who guide her in specific exercises to strengthen her limbs and work on supporting bilateral hand use. She will receive a slanting board to help her write at school.

"I am happy because my left hand was weak, but now I can use it," says Santina.

She now finds it easier to participate in school activities and games that require the use of both hands. For example, her drawing skills are much improved and she enjoys drawing colourful flowers in her exercise book.

At her school, which is supported by HI for disability inclusion, Santina can access all facilities, even the toilets, despite her mobility difficulties. "I can go anywhere in the school without any problems," she says. The young girl feels that the teachers are very supportive and pay a lot of attention to her. They have received advice from HI on how to deal with students with disabilities. For example, they take time to help her improve her writing skills; they let her sit in the front row of the classroom so she can see the blackboard better. Teachers also provide her with adapted learning materials, such as special exercise books, and answer all her questions. Only a few teachers are sometimes very strict; they punish her if she struggles on the way and is late for class.

Santina mentions that she has many friends who are very nice, although some children at school bully her because of her condition. Her friends include her in their games and lend her their pens and pencils when she needs them.

"I want to continue my education up to university level if I can. I want to be a pastor in my community” says the girl.

Her mother also notes that Santina is able to participate more in the daily chores at home because her mobility has improved.

Education cannot wait - First Emergency Response (FER) is implemented by a consortium of local and international organisations in Uganda’s refugee settlements (Nakivale Settlement, Rhino Camp Settlement, Palabek Settlement. It is funded by Education Cannot Wait, a UN global funding for education in emergencies. HI provides technical support to consortium partners on inclusive education, physical and functional rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities, psychosocial support awareness-raising sessions in settlements and host communities.

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee host, with more than 1,6 million refugees in the country. Most of the refugee population originate from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Rhino refugee settlement, located in North-Western Uganda, is one of the oldest settlements, with multiple extensions. Today it hosts approximately 125,000 people. (source: UNHCR)

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