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Living and learning in safety

At Christmas time in 2018, we shared with our supporters the story of the Mother Claudia Nursery and Primary School in the Hoima Diocese of Uganda. Abduction and child abuse, while rare, still occur in the diocese, and often children are unable to access education because of the dangers of walking to and from the campus, especially for senior students where late nights studying are part of life. In recent months, the Mother Claudia Nursery and Primary School has implemented initiatives to protect its students and ensure their school life is safe, happy and sustainable.

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Sister Cecilia Namudira, Director of Mother Claudia Nursery and Primary School, spoke of the fears she held for some of the children once they left the school gates. ‘I fear for the safety of the children every day,’ she said. ‘We ask them to walk together in groups as very few parents can afford transport for their children between school and home.’

For one particular group, Sister Cecilia says, the commute can be especially perilous. ‘For the girl-child, walking these distances increases their vulnerability to possible situations of sexual abuse and exploitation.’

In a recent incident, not far from Mother Claudia, three girls were snatched on their way to school in a violent abduction attempt. Only one managed to escape; the other two girls haven’t been seen or heard from since.

'It [abductions] can happen during the day or night,' says Sister Cecilia. ‘We ask the parents to come and collect the children, but many are working long hours.’

As well as those living long distances from the school, Mother Claudia caters for children coming from difficult backgrounds. Dembe, whose story we shared in our 2018 Christmas Appeal, was brought to the school by her father, who was fleeing persecution in South Sudan.

With these children and so many more requiring constant watchful care, the Cistercian Sisters began a multi-step process to ensure the students are living and learning in a safe and sustainable environment. First up were separate dormitories for girls and boys, a goal that was achieved recently thanks to generous contributions from Catholic Mission’s supporters. Sister Cecilia believes this will have a wide-ranging impact. ‘The students can now live in good accommodation and use the classrooms where they were previously sleeping for their study,’ she says. ‘For the girls, it means they can focus on their study without the pressures of personal security and domestic duties at home.’

Following the completion of the dormitories, the Sisters turned their attention to ensuring more students from the local community can have access to education. With the generosity of our supporters, Catholic Mission has partnered with Mother Claudia to enable the construction of classroom blocks, expanding the school’s capacity, as well as the provision of nearly two dozen scholarships for girls with high intellectual ability but low socioeconomic status.

‘There are 23 girls currently benefiting from educational scholarships, which means they can access education where they couldn’t before,’ says Sister Cecilia. ‘This has an impact beyond just their own learning and development; it benefits greatly their parents and families too, who know their daughters now can dream of a bright future.’

One of those students, ten-year-old Desiree, shared how the scholarship has helped her. ‘This form of support has educated me on the value of sharing. Had it not been that someone over there in Australia is willing to sacrifice some of their money to support such initiatives, perhaps my parents would have continued struggling to keep me at Mother Claudia, just like it was before your intervention.

I do appreciate your support and I feel energised to work all the harder to excel in my primary education and achieve my dream of being a medical doctor.’

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