What you need to know:
- After she was discriminated against by her teacher and later got pregnant, Ms Alim says she dropped out of school, something she regrets to date. She now sensitises her peers in the refugee camps not to fall into the same trap.
Ms Alim Dau Dut, 19, is a refugee from Plot 29, Block E, Pagirinya Refugee Settlement in Adjumani District. She was first brought to Nyumanzi Reception Centre and later transferred to Pagirinya Refugee Settlement.
Ms Alim, who dropped out of school in 2022 after she was allegedly discriminated by her teacher, is now a mother of one.
She fled the war in South Sudan to Uganda in 2016 with her parents and two of her sisters. Ms Alim came from Wao in her country when the war was intensifying to escape death.
She said their father was with them but as the war raged on, they separated, igniting fears that he could have been killed. They, however, reunited after two weeks.
“Our father wanted to take us to the village but our mother disagreed, saying we would be killed by the rebels on the way. He instead called our uncles who were staying in Nimule Border Town. This is where we first took refuge,” she said.
“So, we moved from Wao to Bulia and later proceeded to Juba, where we connected to Nimule. From Nimule, we went to Dzaipi Sub-county in Adjumani District,” she added.
At the time of her arrival in Uganda, Ms Alim was in Primary Three. She said life was very hard when they arrived since they had missed out on education.
She was taken to Tandala Primary School, one of the community schools where pupils were learning under trees.
Why she dropped out of school
One day, when it rained heavily, the wind blew off the roof of their grass-thatched house.
“My books were washed away by rain but the teachers did not understand my situation. They thought I was just disorganised and not interested in studying,” Ms Alim said.
She decided to stay home to avoid the humiliation from the teachers. But her mother consoled her and looked for another school.
In 2017, they settled for Ray Valley Primary School, which is private. The next challenge was that her mother could not afford fees in the new school.
In 2019, she transferred to Pagirinya I Primary School until 2020 when Covid-19 broke out.
“My dream was to become a nurse but I got pregnant in 2022. That is when I dropped out of school in Primary Six. I asked my sister, who is now working, to take me back to South Sudan so that I can join school again, but when they refused, I got frustrated,” Ms Alim said.
After giving birth to a baby boy, Ms Alim said she regretted her actions ,saying life had become hard.
“Raising a child is expensive. Treating a child is expensive and when the child would cry, I would also break down and start crying,” she said.
Wants to resume school
She is now looking for an opportunity to go back to school to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.
“I approached my mother to send me back to school but she is unable because she has been surviving on selling part of our food ratio,” Ms Alim said.
In the meantime, Ms Alim has gone through the Adolescent Girls in Crisis (Agic) programme that is being implemented by Plan International. She is an ambassador trying to encourage young girls in the settlements to remain in school and not indulge in sexual relationships.
She is now encouraging those who complete primary school to pursue further studies.
Ms Proscovia Akello Atare, the Agic project officer, said: “We identified adolescent girls, boys and young mothers to work with. We identified the beneficiaries together with the leaders at the settlements and local council chairpersons. We targeted the three settlements due to the large number of refugees they host and the alarming number of teenage pregnancies.”
She added: “We have realised that the approach is working because already, we have mothers who are becoming role models because they talk to their peers. We also support them with sanitary pads, soap and other items that are necessary for girls.”
Ms Francis Dipio, the Adjumani District senior probation officer, said the cases of teenage pregnancy in the district have remained high, especially in the refugee hosting sub-counties of Dzaipi that is hosting Pagirinya, Pakele that is hosting Boroli and Ayilo refugee settlements, and Ukusijoni that is hosting Maaji Refugee Settlement.
“In a month, we record up to 20 cases of domestic violence and eight cases of theft just because most of the parents have forgotten their mandate of taking care of the children,” Ms Dipio said.
She emphasised: “If parents do not provide for their girls, they will continue to be exploited by those who are able to provide for the young girls who end up being impregnated. This should stop.”
The Adjumani District Education Principal, Mr Phillip Akuku, said the government introduced a guideline called the re-entry policy during Covid-19 lockdown. The policy is meant to bring back girls who got married at a tender age to return to school.
“Last year, 165 teenagers who got married from both primary and secondary schools were brought back to school. This year, we also managed to bring back 217 girls at both levels,” Mr Akuku said.
Research by different organisations indicate that teenagers are a vulnerable population category because they do not have interventions specifically targeting them since they are torn between childhood and adulthood.
They are either lumped up in child-focused or youth-focused interventions, which do not address the in-depth challenges they face.
This explains the increased challenges of teenage pregnancies in sub-Saharan Africa. Over time, teenage pregnancies have been one of the leading causes of school dropouts in Uganda and beyond.
In Uganda, more than one in four adolescents between 15–19 years become pregnant with the rates being higher in rural areas at 27 percent than urban areas at 19 percent.
Additionally, discriminatory cultural practices pose even greater challenges for girls who are already vulnerable due to their refugee status.