Giving Hope to South Sudanese Children in Refugee Settlement Camps in Northern Uganda

Mastercard Foundation Scholars and The Resolution Social Venture Challenge

David Gai and Akot Arkanjelo grew up as young refugees from South Sudan in Kenya and Uganda’s refugee settlement camps. David grew up in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, while Akot grew up in Imvepi refugee camp in Uganda. Their struggle to educate themselves as young men has motivated them to launch the Youth Empowerment Initiative (YEI), a new venture to help the children from northern Uganda’s Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement pursue their studies.

“We met in 2014 as Mastercard Foundation Scholars at Makerere University and started developing the idea in November 2017. Our support is just to add onto the efforts of humanitarian organizations that are already doing great work. We have been motivated by our own stories related to our educational journeys that started in the refugee camps. We therefore understand the circumstances and we want to make it better for our next generation of African leaders and the future of Africa,” said David.

David and Akot are training 60 youth volunteers, providing them with the skills they need to lead, mentor, build peace, and write reports so they can improve the academic standards of refugee children.

Starting in January 2019, when the new school term begins, the volunteers will carry story books on motorcycles or bicycles and dispatch themselves to four primary schools in the refugee settlement camp. They will go into the classrooms to read interesting stories to the children, motivating them to pursue their education, mentoring them to become leaders, and helping them develop a reading culture.

Children in refugee settlement camps like Bidi Bidi are enrolled in schools that are not directly supported by the Government of Uganda; rather, they are supported by the UN and other humanitarian organizations. Often, refugee children cannot access quality education due to the overwhelming challenges humanitarian organizations face, such as overcrowded classrooms, lack of teachers and books, and limited staff, resulting in poor performance and high dropout rates in upper primary school.

The volunteers, who include educators, will constitute the workforce for the implementation and monitoring of the project activities on a one-year contract, liable for extension.

“They will be assigned students to mentor and guide during this period in relation to their studies and personal life. The mentorship program will be facilitated and monitored by Youth Empowerment Initiative project,” said Akot.

David believes that helping the children learn skills will mould them into future African leaders who will give back to their own community. David continued to develop his own leadership skills after earning a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program scholarship, which are awarded on the basis of academic talent, social consciousness, and leadership qualities.

The Youth Empowerment Initiative aims to improve the academic performance of Bidi Bidi’s children by at least 10 percent, further engaging parents to allow their children to remain in school.

The Youth Empowerment Initiative won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge in 2018, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth. These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.

Mastercard Foundation Scholars David Gai and Akot Arkanjelo at Earth University are recipients of the 2018 Social Venture Challenge for their Youth Empowerment Initiative (YEI)

David and Akot are happy that, they can now give back to their community through MasterCard Foundation and The Resolution project.

“The Resolution Project provides personal fellowship and mentorship to me as an individual and in relation to how I intend to give back to my community. Moreover, I got a chance to be seed-funded in implementing an idea that has the potential to support my community. Being a Mastercard Foundation Scholar is like a dream come true for me: I had an opportunity not just to study but to also be equipped as a transformative leader for the change Africa needs. I am on it!” said David.

Akot is still excited about winning the 2018 Resolution Social Venture Challenge.

“I literally froze when our names were pronounced among the 2018 Resolution Social Venture Challenge winners in Kigali, Rwanda,” said Akot. “I have a story to tell — I never imagined a refugee child making it to Makerere University. I am grateful that I was able to complete an undergraduate degree in civil engineering in one of the best universities in Africa. So I am fired up and I feel like I can effect change within my community, especially for the younger generations in Africa.”

Pius Sawa is a freelance journalist based in Kenya. His stories have appeared in Reuters, Farm Radio International, and Inter Press Service.