“Anybody can become a refugee”

20 June 2022


IIEP-UNESCO and Education Development Trust/Makmende Media
Leticia Ainembabazi, a teacher in western Uganda on the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, is seen here reading with a student, from the short film We Teach Here.

We Teach Here is a film series that focuses on the lives of teachers working in refugee settings in Ethiopia, Kenya, and now Uganda. Some of these teachers are refugees themselves. Others are national teachers who are working with refugee learners. All are members of communities affected by crisis and displacement. We Teach Here removes our attachment to place to instead focus on people – it's about teachers who keep teaching, no matter what, no matter where. These are their stories: the lives they lead and the challenges and opportunities they encounter along the way.

Produced by Education Development Trust and IIEP-UNESCO, the films are part of the multi-country research project on teacher management in refugee settings. Recently, with our research partners in Uganda –  Eight Tech Company – and Makmende Media, teachers from the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in western Uganda were interviewed for the upcoming third film in the series. We caught up with Betty Namagembe and Drake Mirembe, from EIght Tech, who played a key role in both the research and the film.  

IIEP: What were the criteria for selecting the three teachers to be featured in the film that emerged from the research? 

Betty Namagembe: This included identifying teachers that fit three main categories: Firstly, a national teacher who lives far away from the settlement and struggles with the logistics of getting to work; secondly, a national teacher that engineered innovative ways to keep teaching students during the COVID-19 pandemic; and then the third category was refugee teachers who provided solutions to language and cultural barriers through interpretation in class. 

IIEP: What do you hope that people will take away from watching this film?

Drake Mirembe: Right from conceptualization, we are trying to highlight to the world the conditions that teachers in these refugee settings go through on a daily basis, and how they attempt to use creative and genius ways to continue supporting learners during COVID-19. I hope that people see the challenges, but equally the opportunities this has created to provide educational services and hope to the refugees in this part of the world. 

It is really humbling to see the sacrifices teachers are making. Most of the time, when we tell stories, these stories are sometimes under-told or undersold.

It is my sincere desire that this film will activate interest among different stakeholders, right from the state and non-state actors, and development partners, to start reflecting on how we can make quality education available, especially in refugee settings in different parts of the world.

This is important because anybody can become a refugee. For example, each time I sit down and turn on my PC in my office, I reflect on the lives of people in Ukraine. It is really humbling because this was a thriving democratic society, fleeing their homes, because of a war that they did not choose.

Namagembe: When this film is out, I hope that the world will see what it means to teach in refugee settlements and the unique teaching practices of these teachers. For example, you find out that teachers have to learn different languages to be able to teach. So, they learn these unique practices coupled with the arduous life they go through, and yet, they are still motivated to continue teaching. In a nutshell, I hope the world sees what they go through, their unique teaching practices, and the constant motivation that they have even with the difficult conditions surrounding them. 

IIEP: Why do we need to hear more about teachers' voices, especially in a context like this? Why is film an important dissemination tool?

Mirembe: Teachers telling their stories will bring authenticity to the issues we are investigating, and that authenticity may appeal to the moral values of the different stakeholders we hope will hear this story since the ultimate goal is to raise the spotlight on interventions in disaster management and motivation in refugee settings. I believe that the fundamental element is that they will carry the message more authentically than you and I can.

IIEP: Based on your experience filming this movie, what would your advice be for governments or institutions working on education issues in refugee settings?

Namagembe: For key stakeholders like the government, development partners, and NGOs, it's good to take advantage of research like this because it brings out what is happening on the ground in the schools so they can use the findings and the recommendations that come out of this research to implement policies and to bring interventions. 

Mirembe: Fundamentally, we've observed that sometimes our policies, ranging from development to implementation, lack the contextual reality to inform. My feeling is that this study and the film itself would help policy-makers at various levels of intervention to contextualize their impact. For example, there's limited intervention focusing on ICT integration in refugee settings, and yet we know for sure that ICT is a critical enabler in the global knowledge-based digital economy. Therefore, this digital divide the refugees are experiencing is lowering their opportunities for progress in life and the attainment of their full potential. We hope these kinds of observations will inform not only policy development but also program implementation and design among different stakeholders.

IIEP: What is your message to the world on this World Refugee Day?

Mirembe: My message to the rest of the world— and I'm speaking with a context-sensitive knowledge of where the world is, is that I observe that the pillars that define peaceful coexistence in the global multilateral system are being eroded. And this creates a threat that any one of us could be a refugee. My call to the decision-makers and leaders at different levels is to develop and implement policies that provide equal opportunities for these refugees to attain their full potential in life because most of them found themselves in a situation they had no say in creating, nor do they have the power to change.

Namagembe: My message to the different stakeholders, especially the education partners in the settlement, is to appreciate the kind of work they're doing, but also to work together to come up with a good and welcoming environment for the refugees. Also, teachers that work in the settlements need to be appreciated more because they end up being like the parents of these students when they [the children] come from the traumatizing situations they have gone through. Therefore, stakeholders, including governments and development partners, should stand with these teachers to better facilitate them so that they may continually support the students.

These children, whatever they become in the future, impact their worlds wherever they are, not only in the countries they are in but also the countries where they come from.

Stay tuned for the release of the full film this September. We Teach Here is made possible with the support of Dubai Cares and the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), through their Evidence for Education in Emergencies (E-Cubed) Research Fund.