By Derrick Kyatuka, Communications Officer, Uganda Refugee Response.
At around 8:30am, a handful of refugee children aged between 9 and 12 years, armed with books and pens, begin to arrive at the home of Charles Wani at Yoyo village, Zone 3 in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement. Charles welcomes the children with a smile as he observes them wash their hands at the hand-washing facility placed in his compound before ushering them into a room next to his family area.
Inside a shadowy room is a television placed on a plastic stool. Plastic chairs set a few metres apart are arranged on a tarpaulin on the floor. Charles has the children sat apart from each other in observance of social distancing guidelines as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19.
Remote control in his hand, Charles sits on one of the plastic chairs as he scrolls through the channels searching for one broadcasting a social studies lesson. A female teacher is explaining environmental protection and the dangers associated with environmental degradation.
Every time the teacher poses a question to the learners, Charles quickly chips in and asks if they have fully understood the question. He then offers to explain a point in the local language to those who did not understand. When the teacher finally reveals the answer, Charles explains it to the learners again.
“I keep explaining to them because sometimes the teacher can talk very fast and in an accent that they are not used to and they miss out on the information. Some children grasp information at a slow pace too, so that’s why I keep explaining to them to fully understand what is being taught on TV,” Charles says.
Charles, a laboratory technician by profession, is a champion in supporting vulnerable refugee children to access learning on television in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, where most children have limited access to learning materials. He is the silver lining in the dark cloud that has marred many children’s learning continuity since the closure of schools in March, following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As refugees, we also want our children to learn rather than staying in the settlement idle. The Government of Uganda has been encouraging children to continue learning either through radio or television. However, the greatest challenge our children, especially young ones, have been facing in learning through radio is language. Most of them don’t understand English. That’s why I decided to connect for them television, so that they learn as they see. I think this will help my community,” Charles says.
The father of six has been staying in the settlement since September 2016. He brought his family to Uganda for safety and also in quest for good education for his children.
“I am a learned person and I also want my children to have the best education and secure their future. Coronavirus has affected their education; that’s why I keep engaging them together with other community children to ensure that they learn,” he adds.
He says that his initial plan was to help willing children in candidate classes to access learning with the hope of them sitting for their final examinations before the year ends.
“The Government might propose to examine candidates before the year ends. I want to prepare them for their final examinations. I contacted Solar Now, a company that sells home solar systems and I acquired solar unit that I am currently paying for in instalments,” narrates Charles. “In South Sudan, I was living a comfortable life and one of the things I owned was a TV. When I was coming to the settlement, I came along with my TV and generator because my children were already used to watching. When schools closed, I bought a solar system because there is no electricity in the settlement and a decoder to support the children in learning”.
Charles had most of his early education in Adjumani District and he fully understands the Ugandan curriculum; something he says has helped him to easily support children to learn on television during the lockdown: “I handle about three subjects in a day in the morning, afternoon and evening. I attend to about 17 children but in shifts. Having studied in Uganda, I understand most of the concepts that are taught and I can easily support the children,” he says.
“One of the safety measures I took was to limit the number of children I supervise during learning. I admit class by class, and take in a maximum of five children per lesson and the learning usually lasts for about 30 minutes only. Children who attend learning then share with their friends in their homes. I also have a hand-washing facility and I closely monitor them as they wash their hands before welcoming them into the room,” adds Charles.
The children say some of the teachers on TV are very fast and that they barely understand what is being taught.
“Young children don’t understand English very well; that’s why I am always there to explain to them what is being taught. Another challenge is that some parents are not providing scholastic materials like pencils, pens and books to their children to support them in learning. Personally, all I can provide is a conducive learning environment and pay utility bills, but I have been talking to some of their parents to extend support to their children,” Charles explains.
“I am happy that my investment has not gone to waste. Children continue to embrace the learning program which motivates me to support them during learning time,” says Charles.
“I want to start registration of all children who come to my home to study as a way of monitoring them and for easy follow-up incase anything happens to them while in my custody,” he adds.
Having heard Charles' story, World Vision will be giving out soap, hand sanitiser and face masks to heroes like him to ensure that children continue learning in a safe environment even in the midst of COVID-19.
Children speak out
Josephine – Senior Two student
“In our village we have other two people who have TVs but they use them for commercial activities like showing sports and movies. It’s only Charles who has come out to support us and we greatly appreciate his services. I am happy that I can learn even during the lockdown.”
Rebeca, Charles’ daughter
“I am proud of my father for helping other children to continue learning in the lockdown. I am in Primary Seven and my worry is that I am not sure if I will be able to complete primary this year. My favourite subject is English and in case we are to sit for exams this year, I am prepared.”
David, Senior Three student
“Before, I was not learning but when Charles connected a TV for us, I started going to his home to learn. He is a good person to us because he is not asking anyone for money to access his television. We hope other people with TVs will emulate him and support more children to learn during the lockdown.”