Grace and Norah are twin sisters, aged four, born prematurely to a single mother in Loco slum, Uganda
Loco is a small village near Jinja, Uganda, formed of barrack blocks that were formally owned by the railway corporation for their workers. The area has poor sanitation with latrines overflowing into the streets. Income poverty has left children prone to exploitation, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse and a high likelihood of ending up living on the streets.
There is one primary school, but parents and carers cannot afford the fees. When we spoke to Grace and Norah’s mother a year ago, there was no hope of education or support for her children. She said she had given up on life. She is HIV positive, and the girl’s father left when he saw they were twins. Never having had twins in his family, he believed that they couldn’t be his and abandoned them for another woman. After giving birth Grace and Norah’s mother was bed ridden for some time and had no one to help. She also developed a skin rash, which later prevented her from getting a job as people believed it might be contagious.
Through our local Child Protection Team, Children on the Edge have supported the building of a new Early Childhood Development Centre, designed to provide early years education in a safe, child friendly environment for the most vulnerable young children in Loco. Grace and Norah were among the first children to enrol.
Despite being twins, these girls could not be more different. At the start of term Grace was very shy, and preferred to spend time alone rather than playing with friends. She would cry every time her mother said it was time for school. Teachers at the centre worked closely with her mother and helped her encourage Grace. They focussed on allowing her to learn at her own pace. When the uniforms were given out they were sure to give Grace hers first to make her feel special. Soon after Grace began to enjoy time with friends and to learn at an rapid rate. She loves school so much now that she wakes early each morning to remind her mother to get ready!
Norah settled in much faster than Grace as she is naturally bubbly and outgoing. She had never been given any guidelines on how to interact with others, so her confidence had a tendency to run overboard. This resulted in many occasions of Norah threatening her classmates, fighting her sister and friends, hiding other children’s shoes in the grass or taking their lunch if she finished hers first!
Noticing how different she was from her sister, the teachers let her learn in a way that was suited to her personality. They engaged her interest and curiosity, channeling all that energy into learning and exploring new subjects. This was a turning point for Norah who now listens attentively to the teachers and treats her friends and her sister kindly.
Grace and Norah’s mother says “At home the girls no longer fight but watch over each other when playing. It’s amazing to see such change in the short time since they were registered at the school. Seeing this change in my girls makes me certain that the future for Loco children is bright since the Centre settled at the heart of the village”.
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