In May our research team headed up to Adjumani for four days where we conducted courtesy visits to local politicians, education officials, teachers, camp administrators, and NGOs working with refugees with disabilities. It is noteworthy to mention that this was well timed with the beginning of the Mango season, and the road, which is still being worked on but which is much improved, was lined with buckets and buckets of mangoes. Needless to say, we took full advantage and returned home with sacks of Mangoes to share with family and friends. We also ate our fill while we were there.
A view of the beautiful Countryside near Adjumani
Our visit was of course much more than a culinary tour. The prime business at hand was to introduce ourselves and our research agenda to local politicians, camp administrators, teachers, and a number of NGOs working in the field of education. We came to share our work, receive feedback on what research may or may not be possible – especially considering the COVID pandemic, and get a feel for who we may want to engage with as we move forward. Finally, we wanted to get to know each other, and we used the occasion to sit down together, in situ, and really work through our research plan and timeline.
It was a long drive, but we took the opportunity to catch up, and took off our masks for a picture!
Our research was very well received and very much appreciated, which was encouraging to our whole team, and tells us that we are doing some much-needed work. We explored a variety of options for data collection and compiled some strong field notes to guide our research. We spoke with officials and organisations that mostly are working with refugee families, and while we noticed varying definitions and practice around “inclusive education” some practitioners create separate schools for people who are disabled, and others integrate them and provide support within existing schools. A learning piece that came up for us was the lack of pathways and transition support for Refugees and people with disabilities. The focus seems to be on primary school education and there is very little opportunity for refugees to enter secondary school, let alone refugees with disabilities. There are also not a lot of adult learning programs- so you can find someone who is 16 in grade 1 for example. The government together with implementing partners is apparently working to adjust to this a little. But still, after primary there is a tendency for people to be pushed to Vocational Education and Training, with little attention given to the quality of the VET programming, and the needs of students with disabilities within these VET programs. This attests to a lack of understanding of both professional VET and the dreams and capabilities of refugees with disabilities-something that the VET Africa 4.0 Research project has highlighted recently using critical capability theory. Another clearly emerging point is that girls and women face compounded exclusion.
Still we must note that the schools are already overtaxed, and that Uganda hosts the third largest population of Refugees in the world, while attempting to shift into a middle income country status and meet the needs of its own population. The efforts of the local communities need to be commended.
Long days of reflection, stakeholder mapping and thinking about the significance of what we are doing.
Finally we note initially that as with policy analysis findings, there is a discrepancy between work with people with disabilities and work with refugees. It seems that there are broad categories that are supposed to cater to all, but not a lot of intentional programs or policy for refugees with disabilities.
There are however, a great number of people who are trying to work under very difficult circumstances in their own lives to improve the lives of others around them. The policy of Uganda to integrate refugees in local communities rather than segregate them in camps, is progressive and caring. We were particularly taken by the generosity and genuine efforts to welcome and include refugees. And while there remain very difficult hurdles to overcome, we feel that they can be overcome. We hope that our research will be part of the practical elements of informing and improving the lives of the people we met, and we look forward to working with them in more depth.
Adjumani itself is a lovely town, which appears to be in a development phase, with lots of newly constructed homes, and a thriving agricultural sector. Colleagues from Gulu University Faculty of Agriculture and Environment had in fact just been in Adjumani less than a month earlier (before the Mango season started), to do some consulting and research around sustainable agriculture and agribusiness.
From an ethical perspective we have been thinking about participatory research methods, and authentic community engagement a lot as a team and we have been working hard to engage and listen to the community. This is why our advisory board has played such a close role in this whole research process, and we hope it will generate better results. To this end, there are two substantial possibilities that we can work towards at Gulu University, and which our stakeholders have asked us to do. First, there is the opportunity to pursue a research chair at Gulu University for Refugees and Displaced peoples, which we are pushing hard to win. The second element has to do with developing a program for learning and teaching for refugees and for people with disabilities. In fact, there already are a number of refugees studying and working at Gulu university- many in the faculty of Education and Humanities, and Gulu University, through the TESCEA project has been working hard to shift professional teaching practice across the institution through the development of a teaching certificate for lecturers in Gender Responsive Pedagogy and Transformative learning. There is a newly established centre for innovation in teaching and learning, and together with the expertise of our advisory board we will be developing a program aimed at integrating and including and supporting refugees and people with disabilities on campus.
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