A refugee schoolgirl has a chance to learn and build a better future
Just across the border from Sudan, in the arid countryside of eastern Chad, wind and dust whip through an open-air school where groups of girls struggle to study. Scattered trees offer little shelter, but in spite of the difficult conditions, the children persevere with their lessons.
These girls are among the tens of thousands of refugees from Darfur, many of whom have never been to school before. For girls in particular, this is probably their first opportunity.
“After we left home, we went to my mother’s village, which was very far from the nearest school. So after two years I had to drop out,” says 14-year-old Fatna. “I hope I can stay in school now. It would be advantageous to me. Once I know how to read and write and everything, maybe I can become someone in a good position with a responsible job.”
Fatna and her family fled Darfur after janjaweed militia attacked their community and killed her sister, along with many others. “She died in front of us,” says Fatna. “We weren’t even able to bury her. We had to run. We had to leave her there.”
Finding refuge in the classroom
Although her life in a refugee camp is full of challenges, Fatna has been able to go to school here. School has offered her a safe space to regain a sense of stability and normalcy. It also helps protect her and other children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
UNICEF has set up semi-permanent and temporary schools at 12 camps for refugees in eastern Chad. The organization supplies teaching equipment and materials and helps train teachers. Lessons follow the Sudanese curriculum so that the children are able to continue their education when they return home.
Getting girls to school is a challenge because of discrimination and cultural traditions. Girls are expected to work inside the home and look after other children, and they are sometimes forced into early marriage. In the Darfur refugee communities in Chad, UNICEF is working to stress the importance of girls’ education – and almost every child in the camps is now enrolled in a school.
“The women in the community have understood the importance of sending girls to school,” says UNICEF Education Officer Paola Retaggi. “The replies that we get from them are that they want to give girls a better chance, a chance they didn’t have in Sudan.”
Even Fatna’s father is now convinced of the benefits of sending his daughter to school. “It’s important to educate girls,” he says. “If the girl goes to school, then she knows everything. Sometimes it’s even good for the family. If a girl goes to school, she can aid her family.”
For many girls, education is the only way to end poverty and discrimination. It is also a determinant of how much influence a woman can have in household decision-making. Read more about inequality in the household.
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