Refugee for the Second Time

When you finally have the opportunity to enroll in a school and... schools have to close because of the pandemic

Dalia Younis
When you finally have the opportunity to enroll in a school and... schools have to close because of the pandemic
UNICEF/Egypt 2021/Mohamed Ragaa
17 February 2021

Ahmed (unreal name) is a Somali teenager whose family fled the war twice.

Before his birth, his family sought refuge in Yemen, fleeing the civil war in Somalia in search of a better life. When Ahmed turned 14, his family was forced to flee Yemen because of the war. The teenager landed in the crowded streets of Cairo in 2018.

 “The Yemeni society is more conservative and less diverse than the Egyptian," said Ahmed, "when we arrived in Egypt, we were introduced to many more people. We met people of different races, religions and cultures."

Ahmed's mother was very worried about her children. For months, Ahmed and his siblings stayed home for their safety: "At first, I was afraid because we were told that the racism in Egypt could make many people attack us just because we are foreigners and dark-skinned. But this was not a general rule," said Ahmed.

One day, a friend advised his mother to try to enroll Ahmed in school. At the time, Ahmed had not sat on any school bench for more than two years, due to the war and displacement.

"I am supposed to be in my senior year in high school now, but I left school before finishing eighth grade. When I came to Egypt, I wished I would get back to school immediately."

Re-enrollment for African students in Egypt

In Egypt, children of different African nationalities are eligible to sit for the Sudanese certification exams. However, those who are unaccompanied and separated from their families face a lot of challenges. Most of them have dropped out of school for a year or more due to war and conflict and need a lot of help and support to catch up.

To help unaccompanied and separated African children prepare for re-enrollment in formal education in age and skill-appropriate grades, UNICEF uses the generous funds of the Embassy of Netherlands to implement the Accelerated Learning and Life Skills program (ALP) for African refugees in Egypt.

For two years, African students receive educational, financial and psychological support along with protection services whenever possible, through UNICEF implementing partner, the Catholic Relief Service (CRS).

Ahmed was one of the smartest and most committed students in the program. As the program came near to the end, he was very eager to sit for the exam until something unexpected happened. "When I was ready to resume, all schools were put on hold," Ahmed said.

When you finally have the opportunity to enroll in a school and... schools have to close because of the pandemic
UNICEF/Egypt 2021/Mohamed Ragaa
Ahmed describes the online sessions of the ALP during lockdown as: "made the long time we stayed at home pass quicker."

COVID-19 and exams

COVID-19 locked down all educational facilities and postponed exams until further notice, including the eighth-grade exams in the Sudanese education system which Ahmed was prepared to attend.

Ahmed and 58 of his colleagues in the program stayed at home for five months in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

During this period, UNICEF encouraged all partners, including CRS, to continue providing support to children using online platforms. CRS developed a variety of mitigation methods to encourage students to continue their studying and create a sense of community support and solidarity.

Through mentorships calls, teachers and facilitators communicated regularly with students to stay updated with their needs and any financial or educational difficulties they faced. Children's needs arising from the unusual situation were assessed and provided with online life skills and psychosocial support sessions.

Jenny Ayman, Education Program officer at CRS, says: "Online sessions at the time of COVID-19 were not just to encourage children to study and not lose hope in taking the exam, but to create a feeling of belonging and support through continuous interactions and discussions with us and their classmates."

For Ahmed, these sessions were helpful while in lockdown as they "made the long time we stayed at home pass quicker!"

With the support of the teachers, facilitators and the encouragement of his peers, who also became his closest friends, Ahmed passed the exam with high grades.