Central African Republic

Finding a safe space for learning in a country beset by violence

Serengino Nicolette Divine attends a temporary learning space set up by UNICEF at the Boy Rabe Monastery in Bangui, Central African Republic.  Download this video

 

By Guy Hubbard

In the Central African Republic, where a crisis of violence, displacement and instability has closed many schools, UNICEF temporary learning spaces are helping children like 13-year-old Nicolette continue their education.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, 20 August 2014 – The grounds of the Boy Rabe Monastery in Bangui are filled with the sounds of children – singing, counting, reciting lessons. With almost two thirds of schools closed in the Central African Republic as a result of fighting and instability, the monastery has become home to one of 144 temporary learning spaces UNICEF has set up across the country.

Serengino Nicolette Divine, 13, fled to a nearby camp with her family after rebels attacked their neighbourhood.

“The Selekas returned on a Sunday.” she says, referring to the rebel forces that briefly seized power last year and have continued to sow violence and fear. “When they returned, I knew nothing about it, I had gone to buy bread for lunch and then I was going to go to school. When I went to buy the bread, they started threatening. My father said to come home and not to go out. When I went back to the house, there were Selekas killing people and massacring and looting. It was because of this that my father said we can't stay in our neighbourhood.”

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© UNICEF Video
A girl writes on a chalkboard as her classmates look on in a temporary learning space in Bangui.

They fled to a nearby camp, but it wasn't safe for Nicolette to return to school, so her father, insisting that she resume her education, moved the family again, this time to a camp near the Boy Rabe monastery.

“He said I can't go back to our neighbourhood and can't go to school there,” Nicolette says. “He told my mother that. My mother said that a school at the monastery was starting, so that was why I came here, so that I can study.”

Omnipresence of violence

About 508,800 people are internally displaced in the Central African Republic. In Bangui alone, 83,800 displaced people are living in 43 sites. While the situation in the capital has calmed significantly, sporadic incidents of violence mean that people still don't feel secure enough to return to their homes.

As a member of the French-led peacekeeping force Operation Sangaris, Captain Michaël heads a patrol unit in the notoriously unstable PK12 neighbourhood. He says he is constantly surprised at how quickly the situation can deteriorate.

“What's very striking is the omnipresence of violence that unfolds in broad daylight,” he says. “On the 29th of March, we had a terrible example of it, when lots of civilians got injured in PK12. The trauma lingered for a while, and lots of parents refused to send their kids back to school. It took at least three weeks for people to be at ease again, even with the presence of Sangaris there.”

Desire for peace

Along with the construction of temporary learning spaces, UNICEF has also been working with partners to supply displacement camps with clean water and mosquito nets.

But for most people, the real desire is for peace. The violence, trauma and uncertainty have gone on too long.

Even Nicolette, who wants to continue her studies, grow up, find a job and care for her parents, wants one thing most of all: “For peace to return to our country,” she says.


 

 

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