|© UNICEF WCARO/2004/Jaulmes|
|11-year old Makka in her new class in Chad|
KOUNONGO, 24 May 2004—From the dusty track, coming by car, the white surfaces of the school stand out brilliantly in the midst of the yellow-brown colour of the refugee camp of Kounoungo. More than 8,200 Sudanese refugees live here in the middle of a semi-desert landscape—a barren land with sand, rocks, a few prickly bushes. Temporary classrooms are made of simple wooden frame structures with plastic sheeting serving as wall and roof surfaces.
Classes started only four weeks ago, but are already crowded with children sitting on the bare floor, holding notebooks, pencils, and rulers, provided by UNICEF. The temperature must be well above 40 degrees Celcius, as it is the hottest time of the dry season. Yet no one complains.
After many months spent away from their home, with no learning opportunities, only a little work to get a bit of money, Sudanese refugee children are happy to go back to school. In eastern Chad, over 110,000 refugees from Sudan have fled the crisis in the Darfur region. Two-thirds are children and women.
For Makka Adoum Daoud, an 11-year-old girl, school is very important. “My mother did not go to school,” she says. “She was going after the cattle. Now with these terrible events, she has lost her cattle and she has nothing left. If she had been to school, she would not have lost her knowledge.That’s why I want to go to school and learn how to read and write.”
Makka wants to be a teacher. In her village in Sudan, she was in the 3rd grade. But as she returns to school in the refugee camp, Makka still feels sad. Her three brothers stayed behind in Sudan. She thinks of them often. “Before we used to go to school together, but today, I am not sure they have the chance to go to school.”
Chekhadine Adam Ibrahim is 10. “I started to go to school 10 days ago. I am very happy to be able to go to school again. I am in grade two. I used to attend classes in my village, Bensaliba. I am fine here, but I always have headaches. It’s because of the fright I had when I ran to flee the village. We had to flee because the Janjaweed came to attack our village. They burnt the houses and also the shops. I saw my house burning. We had to flee into the bush with my mother and my four brothers. My father stayed in Bensaliba. At school, the lessons are interesting. I would like to become a teacher.”
Chekhadine wishes that the other refugee children of the camp could have clothes and “a few coins” to buy other things.
At the Kounoungo refugee camp, seven classrooms host 1,730 children. In two other refugee camps, classes have also already begun. At other refugee camps, UNICEF partners are working hard to set up classrooms before the rainy season starts in June. UNICEF has already distributed school materials to 4,800 children and supported 3 schools set up by refugees inside the Chadian border. Teachers are recruited from amongst the refugees and are being trained in pedagogic skills with UNICEF support.
For refugee children like Makka, Chekhadine and all their friends, there is an immediate need to extend educational activities to all the refugee camps. It is equally important to provide more textbooks and other teaching and learning materials.