By Rukia Nantaba
In a desperate quest for education and safety, more than 500 Congolese students have crossed into Uganda, leaving behind the turmoil of their homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The journey to attain an education amidst adversity has led them to schools in Uganda, particularly in Kisoro district.
This mass migration of students began in the wake of heavy fighting between M23 rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in the North Kivu province of the DRC, a conflict that erupted in March 2022.
The instability caused by this ongoing violence has forced tens of thousands of people, including children, to seek refuge in Uganda.
At the crack of dawn, the Nile Post was on the scene at the Bunagana border, bearing witness to a poignant sight – students, their bags strapped firmly to their backs, trekking across the border from the DRC into Uganda.
Bunagana Primary School, located near the border on the Ugandan side, is one of the institutions where some of these Congolese students seek their education.
According to these brave students, they began their journey to Ugandan schools in 2022, as the war raged on in their homeland. They noted that Ugandan schools have been a haven for them since their enrolment.
However, their educational pursuit has not been without its challenges. One significant hurdle is the long trek from the DRC to Uganda, often resulting in tardiness or missed lessons.
The language barrier has also proven to be a formidable obstacle. In the DRC, they studied in French, but in Uganda, English is the medium of instruction, which has had a profound impact on their academic performance.
Bigira Godfrey, the Headmaster of Bunagana Primary School, shared his insights. He revealed that over 100 pupils from the DRC turn up at the school daily.
However, many of these Congolese students struggle with English, as they are accustomed to Ligala and Kiswahili.
To address this issue, the school has implemented remedial classes to teach Congolese pupils English, with the hope of improving both their language skills and academic performance.
Furthermore, Bigira noted that when these students cross back to the DRC for lunch, they often delay returning for the afternoon sessions.
Owemana Easter, a teacher at Bunagana Primary School, explained that while the school welcomes both Ugandan and Congolese children, they face a host of challenges.
She expressed concern over the different behaviors exhibited by Congolese children due to the unique upbringing they have endured.
Additionally, many of them arrive at school without essential supplies such as books and school uniforms, further compounding the school’s challenges.
Nkubandenza Emmanuel, the District Education Officer, confirmed that over 500 students from the DRC cross into Uganda daily to access education, mostly at the primary level.
He explained that the academic performance of these Congolese students varies depending on the level at which they join Ugandan schools.
While they tend to perform well in the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), registering them for the Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) poses a significant challenge.
As the conflict continues to ravage the North Kivu province of the DRC, the education sector has been profoundly affected.
For these students, trekking to Uganda in pursuit of an education remains their only viable option.
Bunagana Primary School stands as a symbol of hope, enrolling the largest number of Congolese pupils, with a total of 624 pupils, of which over 100 are from the DRC.
Other schools in the region, such as Bunagana Teddy Bears Secondary School, Kanyampiriko Primary School in Bunagana Town Council, Gacaca Primary School in Busanza, and Busanani Primary School in Nyabwishenya, are also opening their doors to Congolese students in their pursuit of knowledge and stability.