Tanzania, United Republic of

For Burundian children in Tanzania, a safe place for learning

By Anne Boher

Temporary learning spaces in a refugee camp provide an environment where children can keep up their schoolwork and regain the sense of stability they have lost. 

KIGOMA, United Republic of Tanzania, 12 August 2015 – As he talks about his love for school and his friends, Levis grins widely. It was just a few weeks ago, however, that the 15-year-old and his family were forced to leave their home in Burundi to seek safety in northern Tanzania.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
Children in a Temporary Learning Space set up by UNICEF in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania write on their laps, as there aren't enough desks for everyone.

“Mam woke us early. We dressed hurriedly and took off on the sly,” Levis says. “We left in silence and walked for 10 kilometres before getting to the border.”

Levis remembers the walk through the bush and the fear in the eyes of his eight brothers and sisters. The family settled in Kagunga, Tanzania, for three weeks before arriving at the Nyaragusu refugee camp in mid-June.

For almost 20 years, the camp at Nyaragusu has been home to more than 60,000 Congolese refugees. In the last few weeks, however, more than 80,000 people fleeing civil unrest in Burundi have swelled that number. A majority of the refugees are under 18 years old.
For Levis, this is his second experience as a refugee – the adolescent was born in Mtabila camp in Tanzania, where tens of thousands of Burundian refugees took shelter during the country’s years of civil conflict that ended in 2005.

Education for vulnerable children

Levis was in grade 6 and about to sit for national exams in June when he fled Burundi with his family. He is upset about not being able to go back to school and get a job to feed his family.

“I like going to school, because our parents always tell us education is everything,” Levis says. “Each student is supposed to get their rights. When they call us to go for studies, we shall go. We like going to school and we need nice classrooms. When a child graduates from school, he can take care of his parents so that he can raise their standard of life.”

The right to education is always at greater risk during humanitarian emergencies, which can delay initial access and contribute to higher drop-out and lower completion rates. Some children in Nyarugusu haven’t been in formal school for months, and older ones have missed the opportunity to sit for national exams.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
Levis, a 15-year-old refugee from Burundi, writes on the chalkboard while his teacher looks on.

To protect gains already made and to ensure continued progress for Burundi’s schoolchildren, UNICEF and its education partners have opened Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) in the camp. 

“They told us to prepare ourselves well, because we are going to do national exams this year,” Levis says. “I am happy because I know I am going to do well and enter grade seven. It is somehow hard, but I keep on learning. I will make it.”

More than 33,000 children are currently registered for emergency education, from pre-school through secondary school, including 1,351 students in Grade 6, in the 10 learning spaces operated by UNICEF partner the International Rescue Committee (IRC). As of today, 18,000 school-aged children have been enrolled.

The classes offer children from age 3 a safe environment where they can engage in recreational activities and catch up with schooling. However, the influx of children in Nyarugusu is placing significant pressure on the TLS, with classrooms overcrowded even running in morning and afternoon shifts. At least 120 classrooms would be necessary to accommodate all children in a double-shift system.

“One lesson can have around 200 students or more,” Levis says. “Classroom chairs are not enough; there are a lot of students, so others end up standing while listening to teachers in the classroom.”

In addition, 150 volunteer teachers from among the Burundian refugees have been hired and 88 teachers have been given two-week training on pedagogical skills, peace education, health and hygiene, sexual exploitation and abuse, to enable them to facilitate teaching and learning in safe environments. Training has begun for the remaining 92 teachers.

To help alleviate the strain, UNICEF has provided additional tents, supplies and training for teachers. For children displaced by violence, who may have left their homes with little more than their clothing, these supplies are essential for them to continue their education.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
Children raise their hands for their teacher's attention. Classrooms in the camp are overcrowded, even with morning and afternoon shifts, and at least 120 temporary classes would be necessary to accommodate all children.

“In Burundi, I had enough things for school,” Levis says. “I had enough exercise books and pens. But here, even school uniforms and school shoes are missing. I had all these back in Burundi – even the washing soaps for washing my uniforms were available – but I am in lack of them here.”

Reuniting friends

Leaving home has also meant losing friends. “Only a few of us ran away, not all students,” Levis says.

Thanks to the TLS programme, however, Levis has been reunited with some of the children from his village. ”I have very good friends, and we play together even after school. We talk and walk together. One of them is called Membe. There is Elia and Hudi. Those are my friends.”

Until UNICEF can establish more permanent schools, these temporary spaces provide both education and a sense of normalcy for vulnerable children. 

“When I am back from school, I get some food to eat. It makes me happy,” Levis explains. “Peace is essential to me, I play with my siblings and help them at home with chores and studies. That is peace to me”.



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