By: Derrick Kyatuka, Communications Officer, West Nile Refugee Response.
At exactly 9:30 am pupils from the Ambassador of Peace Club of Komoyo Primary School in Omugo settlement and Agents of Change Peace Club of Obiyo Primary School take their seats in the UNHCR Hall at Omugo.
By 10:00 am the hall was packed with children donned in World Vision-branded orange T-shirts. The chitchat of children’s voices filled the air. After a few minutes, the judges introduce themselves and the debate officiator calls on the timekeeper, proposers and opposition teams to take their seats.
The Uganda National Anthem was sung, a prayer said and the debate was officially opened. The chairperson read the rules and regulations governing the debate before welcoming a member from the opposition team to share his views.
“I am here to oppose this motion that says that ‘Existence of peaceful environment is better than conflict to human development’. Members, conflict is sometimes good. For example, it is because of conflict in South Sudan that most Ugandans have been able to get jobs with Non-Government Organisations that are supporting refugees. All of them would be jobless and suffering,” argued Juma from Komoyo Primary School, sending the audience into laughter.
Scovia, also on the opposing side, added; “Conflict is better than peace. There is continuous development in the host community because of the refugee influx. There are health centres that are serving both (the) host and refugee communities, there are access roads in the community and this is because of the conflict in South Sudan.”
Edward, from Obio Primary School, in support of the motion, said a peaceful environment is every person’s desire for them to work effectively. “Peace makes economies grow faster and the government is in a position to provide for its citizens the best services, like hospitals and schools.”
There is thunderous applause from the audience.
Using debate to promote peace
According to World Vision’s Child Protection facilitator, Jennifer Etap, the idea of using debate to foster peace in the refugee and host communities was harboured by the children themselves in their monthly activities.
“Children wanted to reach out to a larger audience and air out their concerns and debate is one of the platforms they came up with. As World Vision, we support them in coming up with interesting motions related to peace. We also work closely with schools from the host community which children from the refugee community debate with and share ideas,” Etap said.
“Most of the children are aged between14-17 and over time, we continue to see behaviour change in their lives as a result of debate. They research prior to the debate which has widened their knowledge and boosted their confidence. Most of them have a good discipline record in school and I hope this will shape them into responsible people in future. At the end of the debate, everyone is a winner. We reward all the participants equally because we don’t want to make any of the parties feel like losers,” Etap said.
“I am very happy with the ongoing activities in our peace club. Before we used to discuss fostering peace amongst ourselves, in school and our refugee community in small groups. Now, I am happy that we are using debate that attracts stakeholders and children from the host community. I can confidently argue about the importance of peace in the community and my views get heard,” said Moses, the chairperson of Ambassador of Peace Club in Omugo settlement, Arua District.
“The motions that we discuss are very interesting and people keep learning because we do a lot of research on the topics before we come to present. The debates are competitive and we try hard to make sure we convince the judges that we are the best by giving convincing answers,” Moses adds.
The Office of the Prime Minister's Representative, who doubled as the guest of honour, Nicholas Tayebwa, said the continuous debate will expose the children to new ideas, especially as they research.
“Debate encourages in-depth research and for them to convince the judges, they need to read broadly and consult their teachers, which impacts on mindset change. We prioritise peace in all our engagements with host and refugee communities and all sensitive issues are addressed immediately. Peace club members continue to foster harmonious living in the settlement through community sensitisation and charitable works. All tribes are united in the settlement and live in peace,” Nicholas said.
“Although the opposing side wins the debate sometimes, we as partners have a session with the children at the end of the debate to emphasise the importance of peace and unity. We hope they will use what they are learning to make South Sudan a better country in future,” he added.