When teenager Regina Juwan found out she was pregnant, it looked like her education was finished – her school asked her to stay away until after she had given birth, and it would be challenging to return once she had a baby to care for.

But Regina’s schooling – and her childhood – had already been brutally interrupted. She was 11 when civil war broke out in her native South Sudan, killing both her parents and forcing her to flee with her aunt.

Once in Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Uganda, Regina eventually started going to school – until 2016, that is, when she was forced to abandon her studies to give birth.

“I loved being in school, being with my friends, playing netball and studying,” says Regina. “I was so angry when my teacher said I should drop out because I was pregnant.”

The International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October highlights the challenges girls all over the world face, while promoting the fulfilment of their human rights.

In humanitarian emergencies, girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual and physical violence, child marriage, exploitation and trafficking.

In Uganda, refugee girls in secondary school are only half as likely to enrol as their male peers. © UNHCR/V. Vick

Adolescent girls in conflict zones are 90 per cent more likely to be out of school compared to girls in conflict-free countries, hindering their future prospects for work and financial independence as adults.

This year’s theme for International Day of the Girl Child, ‘A Skilled GirlForce’, draws attention to the importance of gaining skills for employability and calls for more learning opportunities for girls.

With your support, Australia for UNHCR has funded several livelihood projects to help young refugees further their education and provide a pathway into meaningful work. The latest of these is a Vocational Training Centre in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda, which will offer accredited training in a range of trades and services for young refugees and locals.

Two years after giving birth to a daughter named Blessing, Regina was determined to resume her education. She returned to Victoria Primary School but her extended absence meant she had fallen well behind.

To help Regina catch up, she was enrolled in UNHCR’s Accelerated Education Program for out-of-school children and youth. The program condenses seven years of primary education into three and allows students to transition back into the formal system.

Bringing up a baby has meant big changes for Regina – as well as an extra mouth to feed. But when she is in school she is able to recapture some of her own childhood in the company of her classmates.

“We study together, we play, we chat,” says Regina.

Sixteen-year-old Regina is able to return to school thanks to UNHCR’s Accelerated Learning Program. She hopes to become a nurse. © UNHCR/Y. Tukundane

Inspired by the care and compassion of the nurse who delivered her baby, Regina has decided to become a nurse herself.

But the head teacher at Victoria Primary and supervisor of the Accelerated Education Program, Oryema John, is concerned about the challenges facing Regina and others girls like her as they attempt to continue their education.

“Many children [in Kiryandongo] are still out of school,” he says, “and those who complete their primary schooling have little chance to enrol in secondary classes because of poverty and a lack of decent learning spaces, school supplies and qualified teachers.”

UNHCR is committed to extending primary and secondary education opportunities to all refugee and displaced children.

With the help of our donors, we support a range of education programs to help children and young people like Regina to resume their rightful place in the classroom, giving them the knowledge and skills to live productive and fulfilling lives.

The further girls progress with their schooling, the more they develop leadership skills, entrepreneurship and self-reliance. © UNHCR/H. Maule-ffinch

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