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Rwanda, 20 February 2017: UNICEF and UNHCR collaborate with the Government to launch the “back to school” campaign for Burundian refugees

© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Mugabe
Representatives from UNICEF, UNHCR, ADRA, MIDIMAR and Kirehe District inaugurate the new school in Mahama Camp.

KIREHE District, 20 February 2017 – In Mahama Refugee Camp this morning, the Vice Mayor of Kirehe District in charge of social affairs, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and NGO partners, launched the “Back to School” campaign under the theme “together in school.”

The influx of Burundian refugees has peaked at more than 80,000 since the beginning of crisis in 2015. Almost half of the refugees are children, and more than 50,000 of the refugees are settled in Mahama Camp in the Eastern Province.

“We have done everything we can for the refugees, and we will continue to do everything we can until the day they are able to return to Burundi,” said Aristarque Ngoga, a representative from MIDIMAR and camp manager of Mahama.

The Government of Rwanda has integrated the Burundian children into the Rwandan public school system to allow them to continue their education. However, the integration process was not without challenges. For example, students in Burundi study in French, and have therefore struggled to integrate into Rwandan classrooms, where the language of instruction is English. In addition, the nearby school Paysannat L in the Rwandan host community was not large enough to accommodate all Rwandan and Burundian students. In response to these challenges, UNHCR, UNICEF, and other partners developed the “Together in School” initiative in August 2015.

The “Back to School” campaign is a continuation of this initiative. The campaign intends to improve school enrolment, increase attendance, and increase completion. To achieve this, a new primary school was constructed inside Mahama Camp, with 60 new classrooms capable of accommodating over 7,200 new students. In addition, Paysannat L has been equipped with 21 new classrooms to support an additional 1,000 students. More than 6,750 children in Primary 1 and 2 benefited from the Back to School campaign at Paysannat L, as well as 16,000 children from Primary 3 through Secondary 6.

Paul Kenya, a representative from UNHCR, spoke at the inauguration of the new school. “I want to speak to the children… All the classrooms and facilities we are building are nothing without you. Some of you want to be teachers when you grow up, and one even told me he wants to be representative for UNHCR. Let me tell you a secret: to accomplish this, you have to go to school.”

© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Mugabe
Primary student pose outside their new school in Mahama Camp.

Additional activities of the Back to School campaign include community events to emphasize the importance of attending school, provision of school supplies such as textbooks and teacher kits, and recognition of outstanding students as role models for other children. Following the campaign launch, similar activities will be extended to December 2017, implemented in partnership with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

“We are very pleased to collaborate with the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR and partners on this important initiative,” said Ted Maly, UNICEF Rwanda Representative. “Quality education is an essential component of a child’s overall development, and we want to ensure that Burundian children have equal opportunities for success. We would also like to recognize the support of the host community in welcoming the refugees into their schools.”

Also present at the inauguration, Geraldine Kangwije Mukandali, Vice Mayor of Kirehe District in Charge of Social Affairs, reminded parents that they must support their children to attend school, and that every child must take education seriously. “No child of school age should be left behind,” she said. “There is no reason why you wouldn’t be in school. There is no time to waste.”



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