I’m sitting with four boys who attend Save the Children’s child-friendly space (CFS) in Helewyn refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Jibriel, Nuur, Hussein and Ahmed are between 13-15 years and have been living in the camp for over a year. it’s one of five camps established to support the 172,000 Somali refugees who have sought refugee since 2009.
Education is so important to the children here, yet drought and conflict back home have made it a challenge for almost every child to complete their basic education. Ahmed attended school before coming to the camp but recalls that “the people who were affected by the drought, the poor students, were chased away from the school if they could no longer pay the fees.”
Until recently, there’s been no formal education programme for out-of-school children, despite there being 18,391 children between the ages of 11 and 14 across the five camps.
Save the Children will begin its Alternative Basic Education (ABE) programme – an accelerated learning programme this month and the demand is high.
Let us learn
“We want to get our school back,” Jibriel states plainly. “We fled from a country, from hunger and lack of education. We want to develop here because one day, it will be safe to return and we want to return back to our country educated.”
Save the Children has for a long time advocated that education in emergencies is a vital means of psycho-social support and Hussein, an unaccompanied minor, highlights this:
“You know, those who don’t have families used to stay in school all day. We are thinking about our parents a lot. Some of us who do not have parents here spend all day missing them.
“Save the Children, when they arrived, arranged foster families for them and psycho-social support. Now we stay only with the foster families as we do not have school and this makes us miss our families more.”
To ensure children like Jibriel, Nuur, Hussein and Ahmed have a safe place to learn, staff receive on-going training including innovative approaches such as HEART, a new global child development and education approach created by Save the Children. HEART promotes artistic expression and aims to support children to heal emotionally and learn critical skills.
Listening to children in emergencies
Finally, I ask them what would they like to see humanitarian agencies doing more of in the camps.
Nuur answers quickly, “We request only education as we do not think we will return soon. One day, we want to participate in our government and make them push education. In the camps we want primary, even secondary schools.”
Listening to the children, they’re not making exceptional demands, after all, children have a fundamental right to education. And it looks like, thankfully, 2013 will be a big year for education in the Dolo Ado refugee camps at least.
The first ever Education in Emergency funding from the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) will be going, in part, to ABE programming in Dolo Ado. It’s uplifting to know that we’ll be able to support more children and help them fulfil their dreams of accessing education.