Earlier this month, Kidepo Valley on the isolated Northeastern Uganda frontier had an important unveiling in one of more isolated locations in Africa. African Wildlife Foundation and Uganda Wildlife Authority turned over two primary schools to communities that live adjacent to Kidepo Valley National Park in Kaabong District.
This is no small feat when you consider that Uganda, like so many remote locations around the globe, faces stunning challenges in providing quality and accessible basic education. According to UNESCO estimates, more than one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 do not attend school, followed by one-third of children between 12 and 14, and almost 60% of teenagers 15 to 17 years old.
The reasons are varied and complex, including funding, teacher training, availability of textbooks and supplies, and inadequate facilities that hinder the progress of educational development in Uganda. Girls in Uganda are disproportionately discriminated against in terms of education, facing harsher barriers when trying to gain an education and it has left the female population disenfranchised, despite government efforts to close the gap. Teacher absenteeism is a big problem, with more than 60 per cent of teachers not in the classrooms in over half of all Ugandan public schools; many time owing to the need for them to take multiple jobs to support their families.
The Ugandan government indeed identifies education as a basic human right. In 2011, Uganda joined the Global Partnership for Education, an organization that creates access to education in developing countries. Other partners such as UNICEF are also working to help Uganda break the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty that the lack of education reinforces.
While there are no easy or short-terms answers to this globally systemic problem, in this tiny corner of Uganda, there is a beginning for more than 900 children who previously had no schools to attend. Part of AWF’s Classroom Africa initiative, Kidepo Primary School and Sarachom Primary School, Big Five’s Spirit of Big Five Foundation supports this innovative sustainable tourism collaboration, where all materials to build the schools were sourced locally. These schools also offer the rewarding opportunity for every Big Five guest to make a positive impact on the world and specifically on the Kidepo Valley of Uganda.
Near Kidepo Valley National Park in remote Northeastern Uganda, the region is home to a variety of rare and endangered species, including elephant, leopard and rhino plus some 75 species of other mammals and 470 species of birds. Kidepo Primary is based near the Uganda Wildlife Authority headquarters, and Sarachom Primary is in a community that borders a critical wildlife corridor that feeds into the Park.
These vital schools are providing both provide quality infrastructure and trained teachers, often for the first time for these kids. They also explore conservation and environmental issues in their local environment with hands-on activities including field trips into the 557-square-mile expanse of Kidepo Valley National Park. Here, kids begin to realize the important connections between the own village and that of the wider world.
While these two schools are a mere drop in the bucket — for more than 900 eager children, their families and communities, a simple classroom is as good as a promising ray of light in the night.
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