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From refugee to head girl

21 November 2019, Impact of Our Work

A bright girl gets a second chance at school 

When 14-year-old Harriet* and her family fled South Sudan, she almost left her school uniform behind. She was convinced there was no point in bringing it; where they were going there would be no options for her to continue her education. Over the next three days, Harriet, her mum Ani*, her two sisters and two brothers walked. They walked to Uganda, for their survival, for their safety, and for a better future. 

Harriet the refugee

Back in South Sudan, it was nearing dinnertime when Harriet first heard gunfire. She immediately feared for her life. “I was like crying, I didn’t know what to do. So I thought that is when I will lose my life,” she recounts. 

Her mum acted quickly. With only a few possessions, Harriet’s family started the arduous trek to Uganda. They walked through the bush for three days, living on sweet potato and peanut butter. They slept under trees when they got tired. As an older sister Harriet did what she could to keep spirits up by amusing her siblings on the journey. “Like for my younger sister she didn’t know what was going on. She feels so tired, and that is why she is crying… [My little brother] was really very tired, not able to walk again. When they are crying, I make [things] fun. I make fun, they keep quiet, sometimes they laugh, now it keeps them busy, they don’t cry.”

Harriet the student

In Uganda, at first Harriet’s education stalled. In an overcrowded, hot classroom with too many students, she found it difficult to concentrate. That’s when she found out about Save the Children’s Accelerated Education Program. The program is designed to help older children aged 10-18 who have had to drop out of school, to return to learning and complete their primary education.

Harriet immediately re-engaged with her education. “I started learning so many things! I started learning leadership skills, how to make reusable [sanitary] pads, reading, writing… Because when I came I was about to forget things I learnt in South Sudan, but since I joined the accelerated education program, I started learning how to read and write. Now I was even the best!”

Harriet the head girl

With Save the Children’s support, Harriet was able to re-enrol in the mainstream school, where she has thrived. She was chosen by the other students to be Head Girl; a role that came with responsibilities. “I help the younger students. For example, when they go to the school sometimes they are not well dressed. I will now call them and say, ‘You tuck [your shirt] in’. When they are playing outside and there is teacher in the class, I help them: ‘You go and you attend the lesson first, you play maybe during break or lunch.’


Harriet the leader 

This gifted girl has big plans for what she wants to do with her education. “In the future I will become a lawyer and in my job I will use English. I want to be a lawyer because I don't want to see my people suffering... I’ve seen a lot of suffering,” she says. 

Always the helper, Harriet wants to solve problems back in her home of South Sudan. “When I will achieve my goal and become a lawyer, the next thing to think of is to help my family, my relatives. After, then I will get married… then after that I will be working in the office… I’m going to be the boss of the company.”

With her ambition and drive, there’s no doubt Harriet is bound for great things. 

Photo: Louis Leeson/Save the Children
*Names changed to protect identity.

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