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Emergency education in Uganda catches notice at Oxford conference
Monday, 26 September 2011 00:00

Sharing lessons from experience as an educator for the Uganda Permanent Center for Education (PCE), Alfred Agaba Biribonwa was present at Oxford University for the 11th annual UKFIET Conference on Educational Development. Alfred, who works with AVSI’s educational projects in northern Uganda, presented his paper titled “Education in Emergencies as a Catalyst to Peace and Development: The Essential Role of a Community of Adults” as part of the conference held September 13-15 by UKFIET (United Kingdom Forum for International Education and Training).

During the days of important dialogue, Alfred was able to give details of AVSI’s approach to psychosocial support through education. Concretely  the PCE carries this out through the  training and support of all of the ‘educators’ in the community—including not only formal educators but also parents, medical workers, and a wide range of adults—which in turn benefits students and the entire community. Participants from around the world, including from the U.S., expressed interest in the method Alfred described. They were particularly struck by the important role building awareness and community among educators can play in improving security and well-being, in addition to the one-on-one counseling and other activities needed to reach the people in emergency settings.

“I had the chance to tell about our model schools in Kitgum and Kampala,” Alfred said, “where the teachers employed have gone through a series of trainings helping them to create a family-like approach to education, conscious of the traumas the majority of the enrolled children have gone through. I gave the example of Luigi Giussani High School where this approach has changed the lives of many kids, almost making them to forget the dramatic lives they have gone through in history because of a community of teachers who have been helped and learned how to embrace the child, no matter the limitations.”

The PCE, which offers initial teacher formation as well as professional development seminars and classes, was started in Uganda in 2002 to respond to the educational emergency in Africa. It now supports not only Uganda, but also provides training for educators in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and in countries including Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and others. To date, over 14,000 university professors, teachers, principals, parents, social workers, doctors and nurses and even prison guards have received formation through the center.

The hope in a new model such as AVSI’s was expressed by Lori Heinger, the chair of the panel in which Alfred presented. Heinger said, “Listening to Alfred’s presentation gives me a renewed perspective of psychosocial support. It is an approach detached from the historical counseling and makes the children their own heroes. It is interesting how the focus on adults automatically funnels down to the traumatized persons. I’m aware of AVSI and their presence in Northern Uganda; I have spent some good time in Uganda and will definitely come to the PCE when I next visit the country. I have moved far and wide, even in the U.S., but surely this is an interesting new approach which we need to try.”

Others who approached Alfred with curiosity about his work included June Gorman, Education Chair for the United Nations Association of the USA, who expressed gratitude that there was a center in Uganda promoting an education paradigm similar to what she hopes for in the U.S. Interaction with her and many other educators demonstrated the usefulness of such an exchange of methodologies in the vital but delicate field of emergency education.


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Read or download the full paper presented by Alfred.