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Church and UNICEF’s Learning for Life changing young lives in Africa

Through Church support, UNICEF teaches South Sudanese refugee students resilience and new skills

Jennifer, 5, is a student at the UNICEF-supported mentoring and development center in Biringi, Ituri province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Every morning, she and around 100 young children under the age of 6 fill the center’s 10 classrooms.

“I don’t want to be bored at home, I come to school to become smart and play with my friends,” Jennifer said.

With her friends, Jennifer learns French, math, art and community life rules.

French is the official language of DR Congo, and learning it is particularly important for Jennifer and the other students, who are mostly from South Sudan.

The United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF, calls South Sudan a forgotten crisis — what is happening there has not received as much attention or headlines as other countries. Yet DR Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan are all receiving large influxes of refugees.

For example, more than 7,000 refugees fleeing civil war in South Sudan have found refuge in Biringi, DR Congo, since 2016. UNICEF is helping the government provide conflict-sensitive preschool learning programs and psychosocial support for young children.

Life in the camp is not easy for the children, yet child-friendly spaces can be a place where children who have been affected by conflict and violence can meet, learn and play in a safe and supervised environment.

Students play at a UNICEF-supported mentoring and development center in Biringi, Ituri province, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Students play at a UNICEF-supported mentoring and development center in Biringi, Ituri province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2021. | Josué Mulala

UNICEF is a United Nations agency focused on supporting the well-being of children and promoting the rights of children globally. In 2018, UNICEF launched the Learning for Life program, with support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with the aim to help give children the chance to get skills and life opportunities to break cycles of poverty.

Learning for Life provides early childhood development and education services to refugees and other vulnerable children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

The program emphasizes psychosocial care, conflict management and facilitating the reintegration of traumatized children into schools.

It also gives families and communities ways to support their children’s development.

Because of this program, 6,000 out-of-school children have benefited from alternative learning programs or catch-up classes — and 100,000 children now have access to quality education programs.

Children sit at a desk at a UNICEF-supported school at a refugee camp in Kenya.
Children learn in a UNICEF-supported Early Childhood Development Center in Kakuma Refugees Camp in Kaloyebi Village, Kenya, in 2019. The Church is supporting UNICEF's Learning for Life program to help refugee children get skills and life opportunities to break cycles of poverty. | Frank Dejongh

In a UNICEF-supported Early Childhood Development Center in Kakuma Refugees Camp in Kaloyebi Village, Kenya, children are learning new skills in a safe environment. A game and therapy program helps to identify traumas and provide psychosocial support to young children. Some of them are sole members of the camp, without any family.

UNICEF contributed to the construction of the only school in Kalobeyei and to the recruitment, financing and training of teachers.

In Uganda, children in a refugee settlement draw and paint as a form of showing their potential talents and skills in art. This activity is part of an arts approach to providing psychosocial support and protection for children.

Early childhood development is critical — especially from ages 0 to 5 — by creating an important foundation of education, stimulation, nutrition, family engagement and more.

But in times of crisis, education is often the first service that is suspended and the last to be restored. Yet children and families report that they want access to education over any other service when they are displaced or when experiencing crisis.

As the collaboration grew between the Church and UNICEF, they talked about where they could have the most impact with more investment of support and resources. Learning for Life was born out of that conversation. The program is now in its fifth year of serving refugee communities.

In a social media post on the Caring.ChurchofJesusChrist Instagram and Facebook accounts, the Church wrote, “We are so grateful to work with incredible organizations like UNICEF to help children and families around the world.”

The Church also seeks to improve education for children specifically through its global initiative led by the Relief Society.

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