Some children from particularly deprived families would not be able to continue their education without outside help. Because their families are unable to pay for their education, they are forced to drop out of school for lack of resources, and like so many others, have to make do with a hand-to-mouth existence. However, school sponsorship projects are there to support and accompany families in need, not to replace them.

Omoana works in partnership with 2 separate associations which implement the school sponsorship projects. The first partnership began in 2003, in the south of the country, with St Moses CCC (St Moses Children’s Care Center and Community Development), founded in 1973 as a center for abandoned, destitute and displaced children. It currently sponsors a total of 163 children, 66 of them through Omoana. Where necessary, the center provides accommodation for some of the children. Activities include counseling, guidance and psychological support, as well as medical follow-up. Emphasis is placed on the development of social skills and Christian education for all children, whether resident or not. Finally, the association ensures the payment of school fees and the follow-up of pupils. Community and sustainable family development is promoted through training, follow-up and support via a microfinance project.

A second sponsorship project was set up in the north, in the post-conflict region of Gulu, in 2009. It is currently managed by HANDLE Uganda (Hope Alert Network for Development and Local Empowerment), an NGO founded in 2009 to fill gaps in service provision to communities undergoing rehabilitation and reconstruction. The project supports 29 students at various levels of education, from primary to vocational schools and university. Activities are broadly similar to those at St Moses, with the exception of the residents’ center. Team members are based in the city of Gulu and travel to follow up students. They visit families to discuss day-to-day issues, and understand the context in which the wards live. They also visit teaching centers to pay school fees and review progress with teachers.

There are many issues at stake, particularly school drop-out and failure. Some parents don’t play their part in the equation, for financial reasons or because they’ve resigned. As a result, the boundary between the involvement of project teams and the role of families is difficult to define. Families pay part of the school fees, but can we ignore a child who can’t study for lack of basic school equipment? At the same time, expectations, whether justified or not, are sometimes very high, and some parents rely completely on the associations to manage the difficulties.

The project teams must create a climate of trust that encourages dialogue with the pupils and their families; they must listen to everyone’s difficulties and find solutions on a case-by-case basis: who needs to change to a vocational school because of academic difficulties, who needs to leave the program because of breaches of trust, who needs to go to boarding school to escape the overload of housework that prevents study or to have access to a better quality school, etc.?

It’s worth noting that in Uganda, children take on a lot of responsibility at a very early age, especially girls. They are in charge of domestic chores – fetching water from the well, cooking, cleaning – and at the same time looking after younger children or sick relatives. These obligations are not going to diminish because they have to study. And then there are the girl mothers with no husbands and no resources, the onset of adolescence, the sometimes enormous distances involved in getting to school, to name just a few of the many problems.

To top it all off, the quality of the public school system in Uganda is a real problem, especially in remote areas, and the cost of schooling continues to rise as a result of inflation and the government’s limited involvement in its development.

My intention is not to paint a gloomy picture of the situation, but rather to highlight the infinite number of peculiarities facing the staff engaged in this work.

In conclusion, given the growing number of children in need, the means deployed to help these families are not enough. By enabling a child to attend a normal school and pursue a secondary education, you are offering him the chance to build a real future for himself, and to participate in the development of his country in the future. And he thanks you most sincerely.

Magali Perrin