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Refugees Magazine Issue 113 (Europe : The debate over asylum) - A special group of students

Refugees Magazine Issue 113 (Europe : The debate over asylum) - A special group of students
Refugees (113, 1999)

1 January 1999
A special fund helps talented African students.

Gifted African teenagers benefit from a special education fund

Like many young southern Sudanese, Lodwar Charles Road's life has been one of constant struggle and misfortune. His father died shortly after he was born, leaving his mother to raise the entire family in the tiny village of Ikwato. An uncle agreed to sponsor his primary education, but soon after he began attending classes the school in Torit closed for three years because of the widespread war and famine in the region.

The school had barely reopened when warplanes bombed the town. Lodwar Charles was wounded in the leg which was subsequently amputated in a rural hospital near the Kenyan border. Lodwar Charles eventually ended up in a UNHCR-sponsored primary school for refugees in neighbouring Uganda. There, his luck may have changed.

When High Commissioner Sadako Ogata and her staff were awarded the 1996 UNESCO Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize (named after the late president of the Côte d'Ivoire) for their work on behalf of refugees, it was decided the $155,000 prize money would be used to create a special charity, the Education Fund for African Refugees, which would support secondary school students of exceptional academic ability and commitment.

The first group chosen for four-year scholarships were from among several hundred of Liberians, many of them teenagers, who fled their homeland in 1996 aboard a rusting cargo ship, the Bulk Challenge, and who eventually obtained refuge in Ghana after a nightmare voyage. Thirty-two Liberian boys and 18 girls were admitted to Ghanaian boarding schools to continue their education.

Lodwar Charles, who was born in April 1977, was in the second group of 60 Sudanese students admitted to the scheme last year and who are now attending school in Uganda. A third group of 23 Sierra Leonean refugees began classes in Ghana earlier this year.

UNHCR field staff, the Hugh Pilkington Charitable Trust and the High Commissioner all monitor the students progress. The Fund thus far has spent more than $250,000 from the original prize money and donations, but needs a similar amount to complete all of the current scholarships.

Losing access to a regular education often proves to be one of the most traumatic and long-lasting effects on refugee children. Even if they eventually begin a new life or return to their homes, if they have been deprived of years of schooling they may never be in a position to obtain a job and create a meaningful future.

Lodwar Charles hopes that his current studies will not only enable him to return home to the Sudan, but also to help rebuild one of the world's poorest nations. He received an additional boost during his studies - being fitted with an artificial limb to replace his amputated left leg.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 113 (1999)