Posted on April 27, 2018
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Like most children, Shalom Mirembe didn’t enjoy homework; thought school holidays were too short and missed her family when she was away at boarding school. But unlike most children, Shalom considered school a rare opportunity to learn and develop – and not to be taken for granted. As such, her story reminds us of the things that we take for granted.
Shalom lives in Uganda, where access to education, even at primary level, is extremely limited. Despite primary education becoming free in many other African countries, Ugandan schools still often require parents to pay for their children to go to school. As a result, many children, especially girls, remain out of school, becoming victims of child labour and/or child marriage because their families simply cannot afford to pay.
Due to other significant barriers including gender-based violence, child marriage, period poverty and lower social status, it is usual for girls to never even attend school or, if they do, are pulled out before graduating. This was the reality for Shalom. When Shalom was just a month old her father died in a road traffic accident, leaving her mother, Dorothy, responsible for supporting Shalom and her 4 older brothers. Shalom thus became one of around 2.5 million orphans in Uganda (UNICEF estimate) – a country in which the number of orphans per capita is the highest in the world due to the high prevalence of AIDS. For years, Dorothy struggled to care for her children as she received no state support and couldn’t find suitable work – she needed flexible working hours if she was to earn a living and look after her 5 young children.
When Shalom was 9 years old, she came to the attention of Vision Ministry, ACT’s partner in Uganda. Through the ACT child sponsorship programme, a couple in the UK who heard about her story and, moved by her family’s experience, decided to pay her school fees. The money from their sponsorship enabled her to attend Jinja Main Street Primary and Secondary School in her hometown, and then Forest Hill College in Bwefulumya in eastern Uganda, 100km away from home.
Shalom demonstrates her gratitude for the opportunity she was given in her approach to her new life – she shows an incredible maturity and awareness of her situation and as such is determined to make the most of her education. She is aware that she has been afforded an opportunity that many millions of others in her situation will simply never get. Consequently, she has attained excellent grades due to her hard work and positive attitude, and was awarded a place at Kyambogo University to study a BA in Micro-Finance. She is now in her second year.
Here at ACT, we believe that every child deserves the right to education, especially those like Shalom, who are determined and passionate about making breaking free from the cycle of poverty into which they were born. She, like so many other disadvantaged children that we support, is living testament to the idea that a small investment can make a massive difference, and we look forward to celebrating all of Shalom’s future achievements.
Orphans make up a large proportion of the total population in Uganda, but this is also true of many other African countries impacted most severely by the AIDS pandemic of the last century. And with no child benefit scheme, housing allowance, or access to free education, too many families are forced to live a life of poverty and desperation.
You can help us reach more disadvantaged children and families and support our work by donating all you can – a little goes a long way. To find out more about the ACT child sponsorship programme, click here.