KOMARET, Uganda, 14 December 2009 - It's just after dawn in Uganda's northeastern Moroto District. Although it's still quite early, queues of children are flocking into the Namatwae Alternative Basic Education for Karamoja (ABEK) centre.
The centre is situated under a tree, where ash has been used to draw a neat square demarcating the classroom boundaries, complete with a door through which the children are steadily streaming in.
The students' ages range from as young as two-years-old to the late teens. Some of the older children carry their much younger siblings to school on their backs.
In the distance, a young girl carries a blackboard from the nearby homestead to the ABEK centre where she leans it against the tree at the front of the classroom. Two other children carry a box containing small blackboards and chalk, which will be given to the children to use during the lesson.
Making education accessible
Namatwae is one of 111 ABEK centres established in Moroto District to enable Karamoja children realize their right to basic education. As a pastoral community, lifestyles and economic activity in the Karamajong have revolved around livestock for generations.
"The pastoral nature of the community meant that they regularly move from place to place, so having a school in one place did not quite fit with the lifestyle of the people," said Samuel Loduk, who is in charge of monitoring and supervising ABEK learning centres in Nadunget.
This realisation led to the establishment of non-formal ABEK centres, or 'mobile classrooms' designed to suit the needs of the Karamajong. Lessons take place early in the mornings, ideally before the boys go out to graze the herds, and later in the evenings as they return home.
A chance for a better life
"I move around the village telling parents to take their children to school. We should make sure our children don't miss this chance to have a better life," said Rose Nakut, a community mobiliser in Nadunget.
One parent who has embraced Nakut's message is Nangiro Lowuyo, who says although he has spent his entire life raising cattle like his father and grandfather, he has decided to send his three young children to school, so they can have a better future.
What UNICEF is doing
UNICEF supports the mobile learning centres with instructional materials contained in the 'school-in-a-box', as well as recreational kits containing various materials for sport and play.
UNICEF has also supported the training of ABEK instructors and facilitators, all of whom hail from within the community. Instruction at the centres integrates literacy and numeracy, based on manuals developed in both English and the local NgaKarimojong language.
"School is very important," said Mr. Lowuya. "Education is the light."