International Day of Education: I want to stay in school. It will help me forget about my past

This Sunday, 24 January, marks the third International Day of Education. It would have been difficult to imagine, this time last year, the disruption that the pandemic would bring – especially to education systems around the world.

The closure of schools, universities and other institutions, as well as the interruption of many learning programmes, has affected the lives of 1.6 billion students in over 190 countries.

While governments mobilised quickly to provide alternative solutions, the UN estimates that at least one third of the world’s students have not been able to access remote learning.

For the world’s most vulnerable children and teenagers, the closure of schools due the virus could mean the end of their education. Teenagers like Okello*, who – after many difficult years – had just returned to school.

‘Most of them are losing hope’

Okello (17) fled the war in South Sudan and now lives in the Palabek refugee camp in northern Uganda. For a while she did not go to school. Luckily, she was able to join the Oxfam-led Education for Life programme, which helps young people like her get back into the school system through an accelerated learning project.

Okello* in Palabek refugee camp, Uganda. Photo: Emmanuel Museruka/Oxfam

For a brief moment, she imagined a better future. Then the pandemic came along. “Covid-19 has forced me to drop out of school again. I’m pregnant now. And I’m really sad,” Okello says.

Unfortunately, Okello’s story is far from unique. In her district, the number of teenage pregnancies has risen by 40 percent during the corona lockdown. It will affect the girls for a long time, says Johnson Okwera, programme manager for AVSI in Palabek, which is implementing the EU-funded Education for Life programme at 24 schools in the area.

“I really worry for all of our learners – but especially the girls. Thirteen girls from the Education for Life program have become pregnant during the coronavirus crisis,” Johnson explains.

“Most of them are survivors of abuse, some have just been unlucky – or they have not had access to sexual reproductive health information, because people fear to go to health facilities due to the pandemic. Covid-19 has gripped focus from other health care services – there is no room for family planning services, means of livelihoods or parenting at the moment. But one thing is certain: these girls did not choose to become pregnant at such a young age.”

Schools are a safe space

For children in vulnerable contexts, school is much more than a place where they can learn how to read and write. Schools provide security and protection against violence and abuse, and their closure is hitting this part of the world hard.

For the more mature learners, the loss of school is especially hard. As they are already older than typical school children, they cannot necessarily postpone schooling until later. And a large proportion of these learners fled the war in South Sudan alone, without their parents, so there is nobody to take care of them when they stay at home during the crisis.

“My learners are deeply demoralised. Many of them are losing hope,” says teacher Jennifer Cynthia Akongo.

With the already biting poverty in the refugee settlement, the pandemic has only made the situation worse. Food resources are scarce, and many families have no income at all.

Teacher Jennifer Cynthia Akongo now provides home schooling and support. Photo: Emmanuel Museruka/Oxfam

“Some of the learners have even returned to South Sudan, now that the school is closed and they have nothing to do here. Recently we heard that one of the boys has been killed. It’s unbelievably sad.”

Jennifer and the other teachers in the programme have been fighting hard, working tirelessly to keep the learners’ education going on. Every day, they walk around the settlement knocking on the learners’ doors to offer home schooling and support.

‘In the beginning, we distributed home-study materials to all the students,” Jennifer says. “Then we started gathering them outside in small groups of four or five students, to support them in their self-study once a week as they work in the garden and do home chores – we are doing our best amidst their schedules.”

Through the Education for Life programme, teachers are trained to pay extra attention to the most vulnerable children – who, for various reasons, are at extra risk of dropping out of school. They guide the learners and listen to their problems. Okello says it makes a world of difference.

“I feel sad because of the pregnancy,” she says. “I am not free to move among my classmates. I fear being laughed at by my fellow students if I return to school. But my teachers have visited me several times during the last few weeks, and they have helped me a lot. They have been telling me that this is not the end of my life. After a safe delivery, I can go back to school.

“I really want to continue with my education. It will help me forget about the challenges in my past and continue with a normal life. My dream is to become a teacher one day, so I can tell future generations to stay in school and finish their education. It is so important.”

*Name changed to protect identity

Okello’s story by Rikke Hovn Poulsen. This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Education for Life consortium partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Posted In:

Steps you can take today to make a difference in the fight against COVID-19

Sandra Stowe/Oxfam

Steps you can take today to make a difference in the fight against COVID-19.

As COVID-19 continues to affect communities across the world, it can feel very overwhelming and scary. But there are ways we can help slow the spread and cope with this global pandemic together. No one individual, community, or country can deal with this challenge alone. We must work together, in our communities and across borders, with dignity and compassion.

Here are a few ways you can help

Take care of yourself: Stay healthy, stay active, stay calm, and remember to keep washing those hands. Treat yourself to a nice hand moisturiser too!

Take care of others: Stay home to help flatten the curve and give our healthcare workers the very best chance we can to handle this crisis. Check in on neighbours, friends, and family. Make video calls. Pick up the phone and call a friend instead of texting. Ask the people around how you can help. Stay connected with and mindful of the people you love.

Support small businesses, responsibly: Get takeout or delivery from your favourite local restaurants (if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can buy gift cards from them online). Support local shops and businesses when you can. And remember to keep your donations safe for when our network of shops reopens – your pre-loved items are a lifeline and we will need them more than ever.

Donate to organisations helping people most affected by COVID-19: We’re on the ground responding to COVID-19 in over 65 countries, delivering life-saving clean water, soap, and sanitation services like toilets to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. We’re most concerned about those without access to health and hygiene infrastructure, like the almost one million Rohingya refugees living in the world’s largest refugee settlement in the world. Donate today to ensure we can continue to support families at risk in Bangladesh and beyond.

Push for policies that will help us beat this together: The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty – setting the fight against poverty back by up to 30 years in some parts of the world, including Africa.
As governments take necessary steps to manage the spread of the virus, entire economies are being shut down – this is already having a devastating impact on the world’s poorest people who are most likely to be in informal employment, without labour protections such as sick pay or the ability to work from home.

Economic stimulus packages must support ordinary workers and small businesses, and bailouts for big corporations must be conditional on action to build fairer, more sustainable economies.

An ‘Emergency Rescue Package for All’ would enable poor countries to provide cash grants to people who have lost their income and to bail out vulnerable small businesses.

Read our recent report Dignity Not Destitution: An Economic Rescue Package for All and find out how world leaders can support poor countries and poor communities during this global crisis.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.

Posted In:

Oxfam stages Women Alone – an event exploring key issues of our time at CADA NI’s One World Festival


Interactive theatre experience imagines a Northern Ireland devastated by disaster, displacement, conflict and poverty

WHAT:                          Women Alone – an interactive theatre experience by Joanne O’Connor

WHEN:                         Tuesday 22nd October from 7.00pm – 9.30pm

WHERE:                       Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Road, Belfast, BT7 1NH

TICKETS:             (Admission free)

As part of this month’s inaugural One World Festival, Oxfam Ireland will imagine a Northern Ireland overwhelmed by humanitarian disaster, displacement, conflict and poverty through an interactive theatre experience at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast.  

On Tuesday 22nd October at 7pm, the international development agency will stage a thought-provoking play entitled Women Alone, inspired by the strength and resilience of the women Oxfam works with across its long-term development and humanitarian programmes. The drama is set in a contemporary Northern Ireland following an unspecified humanitarian emergency and brings home global stories of refugees and displacement, poverty, gender and conflict.

Playwright Joanne O’Connor, Oxfam Ireland’s Content Executive, said: “The play is inspired by two powerful first-person stories from women we work with from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda – women who have suffered unimaginable tragedy but overcame to help others survive and even thrive.”

Actor Eileen McCloskey plays the role of Rita, a former midwife who fled the violence in her home country when the war intensified and is now an Oxfam-assisted hygiene worker educating a refugee camp community on the importance of good sanitation. The role of Flonira – who was widowed during the conflict, and used funds earned from an Oxfam-supported cooperative to help pay for her son’s college studies – is played by Cathy Brennan-Bradley.

O’Connor continued: “The fictionalised versions of their stories will be told in familiar accents against a Northern Irish landscape to help bring home the faraway stories we hear again and again in the news – accompanied by images and stories from our own work around the world.

“Right now, there are over 70 million people on the move globally, forced to flee their homes because of conflict, persecution and war. This number is too big to comprehend – but with Women Alone, we hope to highlight the individual stories which reflect the often harrowing, at times triumphant lived experience of the one. The themes – family, separation, loss, hope and new beginnings – are universal and will hopefully resonate deeply with people here.”

The performance will be followed by a space to reflect on the important role women and local communities play in responding to poverty and disaster through a discussion chaired by former BBC broadcaster Roisin McAuley.

Admission is free and the event will take place on Tuesday 22nd October from 7pm – 9.30pm at the Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Road, Belfast BT7 1NH. Tickets are available at

The One World Festival will bring together more than 40 events in Belfast, Derry, Armagh and Lisburn from 16-27th October, exploring the world we share through a diverse line-up of talks, music, poetry, film, drama, debate and storytelling. The festival has been organised by the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies (CADA NI) – made up of 20 overseas development and humanitarian charities in Northern Ireland – to explore global issues and inspire action locally towards a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

A full list of the One World Festival programme events is available at


Oxfam has spokespeople available for interview. For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 /


  • About Oxfam Ireland

Oxfam is a global movement of people working together to beat poverty for good. Around the globe, we work to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive. Together we save lives and rebuild communities when disaster strikes. We also speak out on the big issues that keep people poor, like inequality and discrimination against women. Oxfam Ireland is one of 19 Oxfam affiliates working as one in more than 90 countries. Oxfam has been supported by people across the island of Ireland, north and south, for over 60 years. We have over 2,000 volunteers, 140 staff and 47 shops throughout the island.

For more information about Oxfam, visit

  • About One World Festival

This new festival will run from 16th – 27th October 2019 across various locations and venues in Northern Ireland, to increase awareness about the Global South, promote understanding of issues that affect the lives of the poorest people and inspire action in our communities towards a just, peaceful and sustainable world.

Ticketed events can be reserved or purchased online at

  • About CADA NI

CADA NI, or the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies Northern Ireland, is the umbrella organisation of overseas aid and development agencies with an active presence in Northern Ireland. Member organisations work to promote sustainable development, social justice and a fairer society in both local and global contexts. They support sustainable international development by enhancing awareness and a better understanding of development issues in Northern Ireland, and influencing policy at local, national and international government level.

For more information visit

Back to School: Help Open a Child’s Door

Children at Al Rusul school for girls in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam

For a good bit of us here in Ireland, it’s back to school time, which means parents and children are back to stressing about making it out of the door in the mornings on-time. Five minutes late? That’s no bother to some children going back to school in Iraq right now as they also worry about clean and safe access to toilets. Did you know that more than 1/2 of schools in Iraq need rehabilitation and 2.5 million children need help to access education?

Returning Home

During the three-year reign of terror by ISIS, Iraq’s once thriving city of Mosul was torn apart by fighting. Homes, health centres and schools were bombed and shattered to pieces. For many of Mosul’s children and their loved ones, their happy memories and old lives have all gone as children have seen their parents, grandparents or siblings being killed. They’ve lived under the daily terror of violent occupation. Without schooling, only 5% of 8 to 9-year-olds can now read and solve math problems at an appropriate grade level.

When it was safe for Bibi, a student, to return to her old primary school in west Mosul, she found it was a shell. An empty shell. The windows had been blown out, the furniture was broken, and the classrooms empty, void of the children’s work that had once filled their walls. The school’s sanitation system had been destroyed. There was no running water and the toilet floors were covered in rubbish, mud and faeces. The stench was so bad it made the children feel sick.

“When ISIS came, I stayed here for awhile and then I was told to leave. It [the school] was destroyed, the furniture was broken. All our records were all over the floor. There was nothing left for us. Two years of the students’ lives are gone.”
- Muna Husein Kadu, Headteacher at the Al Rusul Primary School for girls
The bathrooms in Al Rusul school for girls before Oxfam carried out rehabilitation work to install clean and sanitary toilets and sinks for the students to use. Photo: Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam

Back to School

In west Mosul, families are gradually returning home to rebuild their lives after the conflict with ISIS, and over the last few months children have started slowly going back to school to restart their education. Oxfam’s teams have helped to rehabilitate the water and sanitation systems in over 30 key schools, ensuring hundreds of children going back to school have a safe and sanitary environment in which to learn. This work is complemented by educational sessions on hygiene that teach children about the importance of keeping themselves and the environment clean through interactive games. These sessions also serve as a fun way for the children to engage with each other and rebuild friendships. 
In just three days – that’s right, just three days – Oxfam workers on the ground rebuilt the sanitation system at Bibi’s school, the Al Rusul Primary School for girls. This is the fast, effective, and life-changing difference we can bring to children in Iraq with the support of donors. Now more than half of the schools in Iraq need rehabilitation, along with hundreds of schools in war-torn countries like Syria. We must make sure they have a better future. In three days, we can help protect their future. Together, we can help Mosul’s children get an education, and avoid a lifetime of poverty. We can make sure that boys and girls are in school and not at risk of being worked to the bone – for as little as 10,000 dinars (less than nine dollars a day) – as child labourers. With so many obstacles already making it hard for Mosul’s children to get an education, sanitation should not be one of them.
“The kids are the ones with the hope. They want to carry on and progress”.
- Muna Husein Kadu, Headteacher at the Al Rusul Primary School for girls

How to fix toilets in three days | Oxfam Ireland

Unfortunately you need to accept cookies to view Youtube videos. Change your consent

To make a difference in a child-in-need’s life today, consider sending a quick donation through the button below.

#BacktoSchool #Mosul #Iraq