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The Zozu Project and Education in UgandaAccess to education in Uganda remains highly circumstantial, despite many recent strides by the Ugandan government. The primary school completion rate peaked in 2000 at 72.5 percent, following the initiation of universal primary education in 1997. However, due to a variety of circumstances, including instability from Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reign of terror, the rate has hovered between 50 and 60 percent in recent years.

Obstacles to Education for Children in Uganda

Some causes of these lower completion rates relate to the difficulty of finding and retaining teachers. Disadvantaged rural areas do not always attract teachers or accommodate them well. Many educators choose to be absent when they do not receive paychecks from the government regularly.

Children have trouble maintaining regular attendance, as the locations of rural schools can be an unsafe distance to walk to, and many parents cannot afford the uniforms and supplies required for public schools. The government does provide scholarships, but these are competitive. Additionally, meals are not provided, so many children study on empty stomachs.

Even for those that complete primary school, obstacles remain for furthering their educations. Secondary school has two stages with difficult exams to pass to progress to university, creating a competitive system. Wealthier families often send their children to boarding schools, private schools or universities outside of the country, leaving public schools poorer.

Additionally, researchers say primary and secondary school education in Uganda does not provide the literacy, numeracy and life skills necessary for the workforce or a university education.

Females struggle more, due to a 31 percent dropout rate for marriage and 21 percent for pregnancy, while among the majority of males who drop out, 42 percent cite a lack of interest in schooling as the catalyst.

The Zozu Project Provides Education to the Impoverished

The Zozu Project works to combat many of these effects of poverty. Set in motion in 2013 when California physicians Mick and Elaine Lebens traveled to Uganda on a short-term mission trip, the nonprofit works with a local church, Arua Community Church, and runs Solid Rock Christian School, which opened in February 2015 with around 200 students.

Through partnerships with U.S. churches, the Zozu Project pursues its mission in Uganda: “To lift communities out of extreme poverty by partnering with local African leaders to provide family-focused hope, education and economic opportunity.”

Elsie Soderberg, communications director of the Zozu Project, who has been to Uganda twice, explained how the nonprofit focuses on its holistic approach to combating poverty while providing education in Uganda. She told The Borgen Project, “We believe that developing relationships in an empowering community is the best way to change [symptoms of poverty].”

Solid Rock Christian School provides “a hand up, not a hand out” approach to education in Uganda. Unlike public schools, where the amount of required supplies creates a barrier for families living below the poverty line, the Zozu Project offers a hand up by only requiring families to provide what they can, which Soderberg says can be limited to “maybe one ream of paper, one toilet paper,” while not simply giving a handout of free education.

Additionally, Soderberg highlights that the Zozu Project does not have a permanent American staff in Arua, which helps prevent the appearance of American handouts.

Many Americans have become involved in the Zozu Project through their sponsorship program, where more than 250 of the neediest children are connected with an American person or family who provides monthly funds for the child and often corresponds with them as well.

Zozu Goes Beyond Education to Consider the Whole Child

Soderberg also explains that in the few years since the Zozu Project was established, its methods have evolved from relief for the malnourished children who needed medical attention before education to rebuilding and exploring methods to empower the whole community.

This means close work with the local church and part-time medical clinic supported by His Healing Hands as well as home visits. These venture into the homes of children ensure their access to clean water, bed nets and safe walking routes to school, but go beyond the children’s immediate health and safety. In Soderberg’s words, “While children are not involved with school forever, they’re with their parents substantially longer.”

There is not a culture of parental involvement in education, so the staff at Solid Rock Christian School attempts to include parents in the process in order to foster a home environment where children are encouraged to do their homework. Additionally, this year the primary school had its first graduating class, and now the Zozu Project is exploring ways to encourage parents to save for secondary school.

On the other end of the spectrum, Solid Rock Christian Preschool opened this spring to address the needs of students who had been entering first grade unprepared. This exemplifies a larger positive trend for education in Uganda. Nursery schools for children ages 3 to 6 have become more common in larger towns and have been spreading to more rural areas.

In the wake of violence and disruption, particularly in northern Uganda where Arua and Solid Rock Christian School are located, these changes signal a return to peace and hope for the future of education in Uganda.

Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Uganda
Girls’ education in Uganda is not a priority for the leaders of this East African country. Because of the huge gender gap and the perpetuated stereotypes of women and girls working in the home, their education does not take precedence. Instead, boys’ education is what is at the top of schools’ minds. In Uganda alone, more than 700,000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 have never attended school. Despite these facts, a handful of organizations are helping girls in Uganda get the education they need.

Organizations Improving Girls’ Education in Uganda

  1. Global Partnership for Education
    This organization granted Uganda $100 million to improve its education system and so far, the results are exceptional. Since this money was granted, more than 18,000 teachers have been trained in early grade reading in English and in local languages, teachers and committees have been trained in more than 900 schools, and as of January 2018, there are more than 550,000 direct project beneficiaries. These results will directly impact girls in Uganda because a more proficient school system will be able to support more children and give them the education they need. The education sector of Uganda has the goal of increasing the participation, performance and progress of women and girls in the education system. Hopefully, with the help of the Global Partnership for Education, this goal will be achieved in abundance.
  2. United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
    UNGEI has implemented several strategies in order to improve girls’ education in Uganda. Since UNGEI partnerships have begun working in Uganda, the process for developing messages for the national gender parity campaign has begun, female role models for empowering girls have been promoted and support for young people is being led by this initiative in its program for community outreach to find out-of-school children. This organization will encourage girls to take a greater interest in completing their education. Through this work, girls’ education will hopefully become more of a priority for everyone in Uganda.
  3. Girl Up Initiative Uganda
    This organization has a number of programs to empower young girls to participate more in their communities, one of them being the Adolescent Girls Training Program. This program is conducted inside the local Uganda schools and it focuses on building young girls’ aptitudes for individual empowerment and social survival. Girl Up confronts gender inequality to help young girls to advocate for themselves and to build their self-esteem. This organization allows girls to feel empowered and not as if the world is run solely by boys and men. This program provides girls with critical thinking skills and gives them the tools to deal with unfair realities in their daily lives. By doing so, this initiative is forging the next generation of confident women who will someday become leaders in their country. Girl Up addresses areas of education that are missing from young girls’ everyday lives and schooling. A couple of the areas that this organization covers are self-esteem and body image, violence against women and children, children’s rights and leadership skills. This program provides girls with the tools to be a leader within their school and their community as a whole.

If the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act is passed through the Senate and is signed by the president, these organizations will benefit immensely. This act will prioritize efforts to support access to primary and secondary education for displaced children, mainly focusing on including women and girls in foreign assistance programs. This is the main purpose for all three of these organizations and this act will allow this goal to cover more ground as well as being achieved much faster. This act will give girls’ education in Uganda a huge boost, as well as all impoverished countries in which girls’ education is not a priority.

Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

To find out more about the past successes of our advocacy work and our current legislative priorities in Congress, head over to our Legislation page.

UgandaSignificant improvements have been made in the accessibility and quality of girls’ education in Uganda. The female literacy rate has increased from 45 percent in 1991 to 68 percent in 2014.

Continuing this trend for girls’ education in Uganda is necessary to transform the country. However, there are still numerous barriers preventing girls from completing their education.

School Attendance

Despite being compulsory, 13 percent of girls between the ages of 6 and 12 didn’t go to primary school in 2011. Of the girls that did go, only 53 percent actually completed the required seven years. In secondary school, which typically encompasses students from 13 to 18 years old, female attendance significantly drops; 30 percent of girls between these ages weren’t enrolled in secondary school in 2011.

Poverty is one of the key reasons girls drop out of school. Impoverished families often need their daughters to stay at home and help with the housework or other income-generating activities. Some families have to marry off their young daughters to receive a dowry, which prevents them from continuing their education. Of the girls that stopped attending school, 40 percent dropped out because of child marriage.

Gender Roles

Another key barrier to girls’ education in Uganda are the traditional gender roles and male-dominated society. Women and girls are expected to do the majority of the domestic labor, often leaving little time to attend school and do the assigned homework.

In some areas, girls are actively discouraged from attending school. Instead, they are told education is for boys. Female students are often stigmatized as being promiscuous. These beliefs can be perpetuated in the classrooms if they are held by teachers, peers and eventually the girls themselves. The desire to participate and even attend classes suffers as a result.

The facilities and teaching style of schools were not designed to accommodate girls. The lack of proper sanitation and privacy makes it difficult for girls to attend school while menstruating. Girls can also face risks associated with a lack of security at schools, such as sexual abuse.

Alleviating Poverty

Improving girls’ education in Uganda can help pull families, and perhaps even the country, out of the poverty cycle. Every additional year of education yields a 10-25 percent increase in the income of a woman. An educated woman will then reinvest 90 percent of this income into her family. Helping a girl complete her schooling will double the likelihood that she will send her own children to school.

Educating girls can also help control the rapid population growth. Uganda currently has a 3.2 percent population growth rate, which is the fifth-highest in the world. On average, a mother has her first child at about 19 years old. Because women start having children at such a young age, Uganda also has a high fertility rate of about 5.7 children per woman.

By keeping girls in school, the rates of child marriage and teen pregnancy significantly decrease. If all girls were able to complete their education, the rate of teenage pregnancy would decrease by 59 percent.

Improvements for Girls’ Education in Uganda

Girls’ education in Uganda has been steadily improving, but still has a long way to go. Much of this progress was a result of the 1997 implementation of free, universal primary education. This policy significantly helped decrease the gaps in primary enrollment between girls and boys.

However, a report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, using 2014 Census data, found that although there were similar levels of primary school education between boys and girls, there were significant disparities in performance, levels of classroom engagement and access to facilities. In addition, there are still significant gender disparities in enrollment for secondary schools.

Because of the profound implications of girls’ education in Uganda, many organizations are determined to continue improving its accessibility and quality. Some of the most effective are local programs, which were developed to address specific problems in Uganda.

Nonprofit Uganda For Her began after one Ugandan noticed the poor access to sexual and reproductive health information for girls in rural areas of the country. It has since broadened into a more comprehensive strategy for empowering girls and women. The Girl Up Initiative Uganda has similarly local roots. The organization was founded when three individuals recognized the lack of educational opportunities for girls living in urban slums.

These organizations address the unique challenges girls in Uganda face when trying to attend school. Educating girls creates a ripple effect, helping families and communities break free from poverty.

– Liesl Hostetter
Photo: Flickr

Eco-Schools Impact UgandaEco-Schools around the world positively impact the environments and communities around them. Specifically, Eco-Schools impact Uganda through student, parental and community education and engagement.

The Eco-Schools program was developed within Agenda 21 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Agenda 21’s objective was to develop a plan of global action concerning every area that carries a human impact on the environment. The three goals of the objective were to reorient education towards sustainable development, increase public awareness and promote training.

Through the implementation of the Eco-Schools program, the United Nations believed that they could achieve these objectives by creating easy access to environmental and development education beginning with young students and continuing education into adulthood.

Eco-Schools Impact Uganda Through Three Programs

Eco-Schools are structured through three programs: the Seven Steps Framework, the Eco-Schools Themes and Assessment for the Green Flag.

The Seven Steps Framework sets guidelines to ensure success within Eco-Schools. However, the Eco-Schools program recognizes that each school is unique and the framework should be adjusted to fit their individual needs. Concluding with producing an Eco-Code, this framework encourages schools to pursue a reliable and realistic course of action.

To provide guidance and a grounded purpose, Eco-Schools choose a theme that aligns with their objective. There are 12 main themes, including global citizenship, climate change and water.

Once a school has successfully implemented the program for two years by completing the seven steps and working through their theme, they can apply to be awarded the Green Flag. An initial assessment takes place to determine if the school met qualifications to be awarded their first Green Flag, and then yearly assessments take place.

In Uganda, Eco-Schools were first implemented in 2006. In the Eco-Schools Best Practice Report, Uganda showed a wide range of improvement in environmental engagement and education within their students, parents and communities.

Effects on Student Learning

The report noted that dropout rates at Eco-Schools were lower than those at non-Eco-Schools. In addition, they learned that student learning and comprehension increased through the final examination. For example, in St. Kagwa Primary School, attendance increased from 902 to 969 students in 2016, accompanied by an increased student pass rate, from 93 student graduates to 129.

Eco-Schools impact Uganda by empowering their learners and building the qualities for successful future leaders by teaching responsibility and commitment.

Encouraging Parental Involvement

By training parents on the program as well as students, Eco-Schools empowered parents to involve themselves in their child’s learning environment. In general, the report found that parents showed more enthusiasm after they understood the Eco-Schools program, which led them to encourage their children to pursue a quality education.

Muguta Moses, head teacher at Rukondo Primary School, stated, “In my opinion, the most significant change is that it’s enhanced parental involvement in the school. Parents have come to realize their roles and responsibilities in the education of their children.”

Community Cooperation and Support

Eco-Schools impact Uganda through providing the opportunity for the community to engage with their work. Micro-projects are monitored not only through the schools, but also on a district level. Through these projects, water, sanitation, health and access to better nutrition have improved. Eco-Schools also implement projects that the community is involved with directly, such as planning community flower and vegetable gardens. By positively impacting citizens outside of the schools, students create a connection to the community.

The Eco-Schools program guides schools through structured plans while also holding them accountable for their projects and operations. Eco-Schools impact Uganda and other countries through educating, increasing environmental interest and growing the quality of life in their communities.

By 2019, Uganda aims to have 15 Eco-Schools implemented, resulting in 120,167 trees planted, 2,000 wood-saving stoves manufactured, 2,560 farm families reached and 200 Eco-Enterprises created.

– Anne-Marie Maher

Photo: Google

Education in Uganda
Education, especially for girls, is one of the best ways to increase a developing country’s welfare. A nation’s GDP can rise by three percent when the number of girls in school increases by 10 percent. On an individual level, every year a girl stays in school, her potential income increases by about 15 to 25 percent. These numbers show that education in Uganda is, just like everywhere else, an ever-important issue.

In Uganda, girls have a low track record of completing their education. Studies show that only 22 percent of Ugandan girls are enrolled in secondary school, contrasting the 91 percent enrolled in in primary school.

Analysts have often pointed out that early marriages and social stigmas keep girls from receiving a complete education in Uganda. But there’s a simpler, more intimate reason behind those causes: menstruation.

This topic remains uncomfortable and awkward in developed countries, but Ugandan girls face this problem on an entirely different level. Many developed countries, including Uganda, have myths and stigmas surrounding periods that shame girls when they menstruate. As a result, most girls have no understanding of what is happening to their bodies or how to take care of themselves.

Adding to this difficulty is the lack of availability of feminine hygiene products. Drugstores that carry disposable pads, tampons and other products can be more than 40 minutes away. Even then, these products are usually imported and are too expensive for most Ugandan women to afford.

Desperate to stop the monthly flow, Ugandan women often resort to using pieces of cloth, shreds of foam mattresses, toilet paper, newspapers, banana plant fibers and even leaves. Not only are these options ineffective and uncomfortable, but are also extremely unhygienic, putting girls at risk for diseases.

About half of Ugandan girls skip three days of school every month because they do not have any feminine hygiene products and do not want to stain their clothes. As the absences stack up, many girls find it too hard to continue their education and eventually drop out. Social stigmas also place pressure on girls to marry once they get their periods and not remain in school.

However, despite the struggle, many girls want to stay in school and complete their education in Uganda, and they’re getting help from several international organizations to do so. Wateraid, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to provide clean water and sanitation efforts to developing countries around the world, started hygiene clubs in Ugandan schools. At these clubs, girls learn about menstruation and how to make their own pads and products.

One of these clubs, located at St. Mary’s School in northeastern Uganda, has taken things a step further. This hygiene club travels to other skills singing, dancing, and even rapping about their periods. This group of girls wants to raise awareness about the stigmas surrounding menstruation and promote education in Uganda.

Despite the work of Wateraid and other groups, many girls in Uganda are still skipping school because they don’t have feminine hygiene products. Wateraid ambitiously plans to supply the necessary sanitation products, from tampons to toilets, for every child and every school in every part of the world by 2030.

On an entrepreneurial level, start-up AFRIpads donates reusable pads to women in Uganda and other areas where women do not have easy access to menstrual products. These organizations hope that soon every girl in Uganda will be able to attend school every day of the school year, whether she has her period or not—and no one will shame her if she does.

Sydney Cooney

Photo: Google

Learn about the Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.


In Uganda, an East African country known for a stunning array of mountains and waterfalls, education is considered a right. Though citizens recognize the importance of school, the education system struggles with management inconsistencies and low secondary school enrollment. Further issues have arisen from an influx of refugees entering the country via a generous refugee policy. Below are 10 facts about education in Uganda and how the system is evolving in the context of the refugee crisis.

  1. In 2011, Uganda joined the Global Partnership for Education, an organization that creates access to education in developing countries. Since then, the nation has launched initiatives on everything from helping girls stay in school while menstruating to guaranteeing education for refugees.
  2. Indeed, education is a key element in eliminating poverty in Uganda. It’s no wonder that the national adult literacy rate rose from 68.1 percent in 2002 to 73.8 percent in 2015—and the literacy rate among youth soars at 87 percent.
  3. Though 90 percent of children attend primary school, that drops below 25 percent in secondary school due to facility shortages. This disparity contributes to continued poverty, as those without a secondary education have lower chances of pursuing careers.
  4. Space is a major factor in the future of education in Uganda, especially in the face of conflict in Sudan. Uganda accommodates more than one million refugees, more than half of whom are children.
  5. Last year, Bidi Bidi became the world’s largest refugee settlement, with around 270,000 occupants. The people of Uganda are as passionate about keeping others safe as they are about educating them—but to excel at both, the nation must implement plans to find a balance between the two.
  6. Though Uganda highly values education, some internal issues have stunted its growth. Funding is a key issue. Uganda relies largely on international aid when it comes to supporting refugees’ basic needs—but, so far, the U.N. has obtained just 14 percent of the $781 million it requested to funnel into resources for Sudanese refugees, including education.
  7. Teacher absenteeism is another barrier to education growth in burgeoning Uganda. Due to low and delayed pay, many teachers are forced to take on additional jobs, and classrooms are often left without distinct leaders—which isn’t surprising, given that the nation’s youth outnumber its adults.
  8. The Ugandan government and Promoting Equality in African Schools (PEAS) are working to dismantle these inefficiencies in the education system. The groups have launched an initiative to assess and correct the quality of education and school management in 21 schools.
  9. The initiative plans to refine curriculum and teaching standards but first requires some basic resources—including a reliable source of electricity.
  10. While the steps necessary to improve education in Uganda may seem staggering, the cause looks brighter every day. Last month, a refugee solidarity summit held in Kampala garnered $358.2 million in pledges, which will provide resources for education.

Though the cracks are beginning to show in the school system, passionate citizens and government officials refuse to let it crumble. With concerted efforts, education in Uganda can continue growing in size, scope and merit.

Madeline Forwerck

Photo: Flickr

Education in Uganda
For the last 15 years, the Educate! program has been turning education in Uganda on its head, teaching practical and entrepreneurial skills to break the cycle of poverty and youth unemployment. Currently partnered with more than 350 secondary schools in Uganda and 520 total schools across Africa, Educate! delivers experience-based education to help develop the next generation of community leaders and innovators.

With a growing population, 70 percent of which is young people under the age of 30, Uganda is in need of education reform. Although Uganda introduced free universal secondary schooling in 2011, the youth unemployment rate remains around 66 percent, and factors like attendance and education quality still raise questions. The Educate! program seeks to combat these problems by breaking students into smaller groups taught by mentors in the program, working together to build practical skills such as public speaking, personal savings and social responsibility.

Educate! was first founded in 2002 when U.S. students visited Uganda and were shocked by the number of children struggling to stay in school due to school fees and living and traveling conditions. Educate!’s founders saw the opportunity to turn classrooms into training grounds for students to learn to help themselves, and the organization has been growing and bringing in new teachers ever since.

Outside of the classroom, Educate! is innovating education in Uganda by encouraging interaction between schools with groups such as student business clubs. In these clubs, students utilize skills learned in the classrooms, forming enterprises to compete in the annual National Student Business Competition.

In the last decade, Educate!’s impact in Uganda has increased significantly. Since launching its first education programs in 2009 with seven mentors, Educate! has grown to 200 mentors impacting more than 14,000 students and expanding into other African countries such as Rwanda. By 2024, Educate! aims to reach a million students in Uganda and expand to reach millions more across Africa. Today, the organization reports a 105 percent increase in income among Educate! scholars after graduating high school and a 120 percent increase among female scholars.

The organization is also working with the Ugandan government to spread its mission beyond the scope of just mentors. By building curriculums together with the government and bringing its skills-based model to other schools, Educate! acts as a driving force giving education in Uganda a practical focus. Thanks to its work with the Ugandan government, 45 percent of Ugandan schools now have active student business clubs.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Flickr