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”I was so happy to go back to school again”

Life of 15-year-old Selwa Samuel Joseph has been anything but easy, being forced to flee South Sudan, leaving her parents and six siblings behind. She found safety from the brutal conflict in Tsore Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, where she finally has picked up school again.

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For refugee girls who can go to school, their lives improve dramatically. Having access to school enhances their role in their families and communities, it improves their health and helps to keep them safe from risks and dangers associated to violence against women. It returns their sense of normalcy to their lives, even in the midst of extreme circumstances.

However, getting an education for these girls is not always a possibility. Many girls are expected to marry early, care for younger children, fetch water or cook. Selwa Samuel Joseph and her siblings went to school back in home in Bunji, South Sudan. “My parents are farmers and they did not want me and my siblings to end up like them, they pushed and encouraged us to go to school,” she recalls.

“I want to support my community and to be an example for girls who are not attending school.”

— Selwa, living in refugee camp in Ethiopia

When the war caught up, Selwa was forced out of school and eventually had to flee her home, unaccompanied and uncertain of her fate.

Since December 2013, the brutal conflict in South Sudan has torn families apart and pushed over a million of people from their homes. Like Selwa, many refugees found safety in Ethiopia.

A new school – new future

Even though primary education is a priority sector, receiving sufficient funds is often a challenge. It wasn’t until 2016 UNHCR managed to open a primary school. “I lost five years – two at home and three in Ethiopia without school. I was so happy when the school here opened, since it means I can finally pick up from where I left off”, Selwa says.

Uncertain of where her family is, Selwa is determined to continue her studies. Currently in grade six, she daydreams of becoming a doctor and a university instructor. “I want to support my community and to be an example for girls who are not attending school.”

Thanks to funding from donors like the H&M Foundation, the lives of some 2,600 South Sudanese children have been changed, especially for girls. More than 900 refugee girls amongst the school age children have now better chances to stay safe from marrying young, or from hunger, sexual and gender based violence and disease.