Inside the Kyangwali refugee camp in western Uganda, life is like any other village. You won’t see any tents erected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Instead, you come across vegetable markets and shops, hear music playing, and see people of all ages going about their business.
The camp is located near the city of Hoima, not far from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. About 40,000 refugees live here, from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. Many have lived here for more than 20 years.
Typically, many displaced children drop out of school because of problems such as poverty, hunger, and disease. But the situation is different in the Kyangwali camp, thanks to a youth farming project that helps keep kids healthy and enrolled in school.
Alice Ngabire is studying at a secondary school in Hoima. She says, “[Before] I did not know anything about farming, but now I have skills. I can plant, cultivate, and harvest.”
The camp is a collection of scattered villages on a vast piece of land that belongs to the Ugandan government. Almost every family has a half-acre of land to grow food, and produces crops such as maize, beans, yams, sugar cane, and vegetables. Many refugees also rear chickens, goats, sheep, or cattle. Some houses have iron sheet roofs while others are thatched grass.
The Government of Uganda runs public schools, but many parents don’t have money to pay the fees. And some children lost their parents during violent conflicts. But now an alternative arrangement is making it possible for these children to attend school: they can pay in maize and beans instead of money.
The young people in the camp formed the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and South Sudan International Youth Organization to Transform Africa, or CIYOTA. The group runs its own primary school in the camp. It also has 20 acres of farmland where young people can grow food for their families or to cover school fees.
Afya Niitegeka is a member of CIYOTA and a student at Kitara Secondary School in Hoima. She says, “We dig, we plant, cultivate, and harvest. This has helped us raise food [for school]. At home, I can now also help my parents do farming.”
Joseph Munyambanza is the co-founder of CIYOTA. He says the youth farm produces food for about 450 children in primary school and more than 200 in secondary schools. These children are among the most vulnerable in the camp.
When families in the camp have food shortages, CIYOTA gives them maize and beans, and the families pay them back after the harvest.
Mr. Munyambanza says the schools provide children in primary school with breakfast and lunch, and offer evening meals for those in boarding schools.
During weekends and school holidays, students help plant, cultivate, and harvest.
According to Mr. Munyambanza, parents contribute 50 kilograms of maize and five kg of beans each term in place of school fees. He says: “A hungry child will not walk to school, and the food rations provided by UNHCR cannot sustain them. So when CIYOTA started farming, the schools were able to provide meals to the children. And that makes them healthy and energetic [enough] to sit in class and complete school.”
John Bosco Okaboi is the head teacher at the primary school. He says that farming has enabled children to complete their primary education and continue to secondary school. He adds, “We have enough food to feed these children and we also have eggplants [for flavour].”
Mr. Okaboi says that, in the past, many children were unable to attend school because they were hungry. He adds, “The school has been performing well in national exams and other co-curricular activities—which excited the government to support us by providing land for farming.”
Augustine Muganza is a high school student who farms to help pay his school fees. He says: “I was just loitering around, but my friends told me about a group that is helping children to study. I was admitted and was able to complete my primary school and now I am in grade 10 completing my secondary education.”