Against the odds: South Sudanese refugee student eager to continue his education


Maliyamungu Gift, 14, still remembers his first day of school at the Biringi refugee settlement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was excited and thankful for the opportunity to resume his studies. 

It was 2016. Gift had fled the war that was ravaging his homeland, South Sudan — our world’s youngest, and one of the least stable countries. His father was killed and he was separated from his mother. After a treacherous journey, Gift and his uncle found refuge in Biringi.

“War makes a lot of people suffer. Because of war, I had to drop out of school. When I found out I was going back to school, it made me happy,” Gift recalls.

Gift has been more than happy. He has thrived — and has been at the top of his class for the last three years. Although he didn’t speak French, the main language of instruction in the DRC, this determined young man mastered it thanks to courses provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and supported by generous Americans. His proficiency even led him to victory in a regional spelling bee.

Learning a language from scratch wasn’t the only obstacle Gift had to overcome. Without electricity, he couldn’t study at night, so he designed his own solar-powered lamp. “I had to build this,” he said, holding his makeshift light made of three bulbs and a solar battery held together by tape.

Gift created a night light so he could study after dark.

“I study a lot and surround myself with friends that also have high academic ambitions. I want to pursue my studies until university, to become a teacher,” he said. Despite his intelligence and determination, the odds are stacked against Gift. He is in his last year of elementary school and middle schools are few and far between in the eastern stretches of the DRC, where Biringi is located.

It would be horrible if I couldn’t go to middle school.  There should be a way for everyone to study.

As each year passes, the likelihood of a refugee girl or boy like Gift progressing to the next academic grade drops sharply. It’s even more precipitous for older students like Gift, for whom middle school is a gateway to a rich and fulfilling life.

Gift loves learning and studies hard when he's in class.

Every  effort to increase the number of refugee teenagers who can continue their studies has a transformative impact on their lives, their communities, their countries — and our world. That’s why UNHCR started a program earlier this year to enroll more refugees in middle school. With donor support, the program covers the cost of school fees, books, supplies and uniforms. It also helps to build and rehabilitate school buildings.

The alternative to school is waiting around with no clear options for the future.  This is why we are doing all we can to keep them in school.

Ann Encontre, UNHCR’s Regional Representative in the DRC, has met students like Gift. “When you talk to them, you see how eager they are to learn,” she said. Continuing their education through middle school and beyond provides them with purpose and a vision of the person they can become.

Here’s how you can help 

Education prepares refugees for the world of today and of tomorrow. In turn, it will help create a more sustainable and peaceful world. As a monthly donor, you can ensure that more teenagers like Gift attend school. Transform a life — and our world. Make your first gift today.

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