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WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA feature story for Niger

© UNICEF Niger/2009/Bisin

Eight-year-old Asamaou Alassane studies in a makeshift classroom in Agadez. Since 2007, fighting between rebel and government forces in the north have displaced some 14,000 people, many of whom still live in temporary shelters in Agadez.

RESTORING NORMAL ROUTINE BY BRINGING EDUCATION TO DISPLACED CHILDREN IN NORTHERN NIGER

AGADEZ, Niger, 20 May 2009 – Pointing at the blackboard with a wooden stick, eight-year-old Asmaou Alassane concentrates on her latest grammar lesson: “ ‘M’ and ‘I’: ‘M’ I”, she says seeking approval from her teacher.  Her answer is correct.

It has now been two months since Asmaou started studying again, after she and her family sought refuge from the clashes between government forces and rebels in the north of Niger.  Six months earlier, the fighting had forced Asmaou’s family to leave their village of Elmiki – and Asmaou’s school. 

“Some time ago, I had to leave our village with my mother.  Everyone was going to Agadez.  We also had to. I could hear war-like noises, shooting, I was scared. Now I have been studying in Agadez for the past two months. I am happy, as I missed going to school a lot. What I like most is the reading class,” Asmaou says.  Studying in the first grade, Asmaou is one of the best students in her class.

“In this context, UNICEF’s priority is not only to create conditions for teaching and learning but also to provide a safe environment for children,” says UNICEF Niger Education Officer Abdel Kader René-Joly.

Since April 2007, in the region of Agadez in northern Niger, about 14,000 people, including many women and children, have been living in temporary shelters as internally displaced people due to the increasing insecurity in the area. This is where Asmaou and her family currently reside.

Asmaou’s school hosts 136 students; it was entirely relocated from her village all the way to Agadez.  This was made possible through UNICEF partnering with the Government of Niger. To build the temporary school, UNICEF supplied corrugated iron sheets, blackboards and floor mats for the construction of eight makeshift classrooms, and provided school manuals especially designed for use by teachers during emergencies. In tandem, the government contributed tables and chairs for the students.

As a result, between January and July 2009, a total of 256 displaced children (among them 103 girls) in northern Niger were able to continue their primary education. For children displaced by armed conflict or disaster, going to school every day is more important than ever to give them a sense of normalcy and restore their daily routine. They can learn, play with their friends and be out of their makeshift shelters for part of the day.

What is more, with UNICEF support about 500 displaced children under the age of seven attended pre-school activities in Agadez in early 2009. “Education is a right for all children, even in times of emergency,” emphasizes a government education advisor from the local commune of Tabaga in Agadez. “These children had to flee their village to come to Agadez. We need to preserve their right to education.”

The situation in the north of Niger has improved since peace talks started between the government and rebel groups in May 2009.  Some displaced populations have even started to resettle, and the de-mobilization and disarmament of some rebel groups are underway.

In the meantime, Asmaou and other children like her will be able to continue their education – even in times of uncertainty.