Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, schools empty as effects of drought wear on

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© UNICEF/HQ06-0258/Heavens
Abdi Mohammed, 12, outside Hadawi Primary School, which closed due to the drought.

By Andrew Heavens

GODE, Somali Region, Ethiopia, 29 June 2006 – Mahad Muhumud Yussuf used to enjoy going to school with his big sister.

“We walked to school together,” said the 12-year-old. “We were learning together. When I didn’t know the answer she used to tell me.”

That was before drought started spreading around his home in Gode, a bustling town in Ethiopia’s remote Somali Region, a few hundred kilometres from the country’s border with Somalia.

The family’s small herd of sheep and goats started to die, hitting their income and basic food supply. Mahad’s parents decided they had no choice but to take his sister Ayan out of Dolal Primary School and get her working to supplement the family finances.

Ayan, 14, had to swap her schoolbooks for the daily drudgery of a housemaid. She was not alone.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ06-0259/Heavens
Mahad Muhumud Yussuf, 12, attends Dolal Primary School but his parents removed his sister from the school to work as a maid.

‘Some of them just disappear’

This year, more than 150 children have been taken out of Dolal Primary School in Gode for a range of reasons connected to the drought. Many were the children of pastoralist parents who simply had to move on with their flocks in search of better pasture.

By early May, 8 out of the 31 schools in Gode zone – home to 500,000 people – had closed. The remaining schools were suffering drop-out rates similar to Dolal’s, said regional education officials.

“We have seen lots of drop-outs since the drought started,” said Dolal Deputy Headteacher Mahmoud Abdullahi. “Some of them just disappear. Some come in one day and then you don’t see them for another two or three days. Most of them are working, polishing shoes or just out looking for food.”

Many of the children who remain in school have also been touched by the drought. “Hungry children can’t understand anything in their lessons,” said Mr. Abdullahi. “I have seen this personally.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ06-0254/Heavens
Rather than attending school, a young pastoralist drives his family’s livestock out of the town of Gode in search of rain in Ethiopia’s drought-ravaged Somali Region.

Drought response looks to education

UNICEF’s early response to the drought that spread beyond Ethiopia’s borders to affect the whole Horn of Africa in the first four months of this year was focused on saving lives.

The organization helped set up emergency water supplies, funded the vaccination of more than 800,000 children in Somali against measles (a major child killer in the area’s last big drought in 2000), supplied therapeutic food to treatment centres and sent squads of mobile health teams speeding across the region.

The second wave of UNICEF’s response, now rolling out, includes a range of actions designed to protect children’s education alongside their health, nutrition and water supply. Plans are in place to launch an in-depth review of the education system in the region, fund the training of more teachers and supply basic education and play equipment.

Meanwhile, other health, nutrition and clean-water initiatives will help return some form of stability to pastoralists’ lives, thereby giving them the opportunity to send their children back to school.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/HQ06-0257/Heavens
Headmaster Mohamud Garane sits in an empty classroom at Hadawi Primary School.

Closing of schools already under stress

“The education system in Ethiopia’s Somali Region was under serious stress, even before the drought,” said UNICEF Ethiopia’s Education Chief, Augustine Agu. “It had some of the country’s lowest enrolment rates – 21 per cent overall against the national average of 79 per cent.

“Then there was the inadequate supply of everything from classrooms, furniture and textbooks to qualified teachers, school sporting facilities and toilets,” continued Mr. Agu. “The drought, of course, made matters even worse. In some cases the resulting insecurity and collapse of social infrastructure forced entire communities to abandon their homes. Children were taken away and deprived of one of their most basic rights – an education.”

That is exactly what happened an hour’s drive north of Gode in the small village of Hadawi.

“Most of the children left two weeks ago,” said Hadawi Primary School Headmaster Mohamud Garane. “The teachers finished marking exams and then they left. Then we closed the school.”

Out of the original 400 pupils, just 15 were left hanging around the bare school buildings on the outskirts of the village. “Almost everyone left,” said Abdi Mohammed, 12. “But the poorer people, the ones without animals, they stayed.

“I’m waiting to go back to school,” he added. “I want to go to university. I want to see the world.”


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Dan Thomas reports from Ethiopia’s Somali Region on the effect of drought on children’s education. Shot by Efrata Belachew and edited by Rachel Warden.
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UNICEF correspondent Dan Thomas reports from Ethiopia's Somali Region on UNICEF's work to help save thousands of malnourished children and their parents. Produced by Blue Chevigny.
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