Schools provide normalcy for refugee children in Mai Ayni and Adi Harush Refugee camps in Ethiopia
When announced through megaphone for families to register their children for school, her father did not hesitate to sign up Fieruz and her two siblings. They have now been in school for two weeks.
Adi Harush Refugee Camp, Tigray Region, 9 April 2021: Fieruz Teklehaimanot, 16, is an 8th grader at Adi Harush Refugee Camp, Ethiopia. She is new here, having fled with her parents and three siblings from Hitsats Refugee Camp after conflict erupted in the region in November last year. The Hitsats camp has since been closed and all the refugees relocated by the Government’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to Mai Tesbri and Adi Harush refugee camps.
When it was announced through a megaphone that families needed to register their children for school, her father did not hesitate to sign up Fieruz and her two siblings. They have now been in school for two weeks now.
“Life is much better for us here now that we have started school. Some of my friends here also came from Hitsats,” says Fieruz.
Feiruz’s father, Teklehaimanot Mekonnen, 43, also recalls how his family left Hitsats camp for Adi Harush.
“At first, we had to go from Hitsats to Shire which was really difficult as it was extremely hot, and we had to walk by foot. It took us two days to reach Shire with my family. My eight-month-old baby was not feeling well on the way and we were worried. We stayed for seven nights in Shire in a temporary settlement set up by government. But from Shire to Adi Harush, it was ARRA that organized transportation for us, and it was a pleasant trip.”
Tekelehaimanot is happy that his three school-aged children are attending school.
“I was so happy when I heard that they were registering children for school. When I heard about it on mini media, I brought three of my children for registration,” he says
Teklehaimanot believes that children are better off at school for their mental heath and psychosocial wellbeing.
“While at school, they play games with their friends and, because of this, their minds are less stressed. It would have been difficult to have them doing nothing in the camp all the time as this would have affected their mental health.”
But not every parent is enthusiastic about sending their children to school.
Sana Betamat, 30, a father of four, is also new here, having travelled to Adi Harush Camp from Shimelba Refugee Camp when fighting broke out.
“Here in Adi Harush, classes are only taught in the Amharic and Tigrigna languages. I want my children to be taught in our Kunama language as well,” he says. “I believe it is important for my children to know their language and culture.”
Abrehaley Tewolde, the school principal, says there are challenges in teaching children in their own languages due to the lack of teachers and educational materials that impact some parents’ willingness to send their children to school. However, he is discussing with the Education Bureau on how to solve this issue promptly.
He is nevertheless encouraged by the response from the parents and learners on school enrolment.
“A month ago, we undertook an assessment of the number of school-aged children in the camp. Our aim was to also register the newcomers from Hitsats and Shimelba camps,” he says.
“We managed to register 1,655 children - 851 males and 804 females. Although this is half our target, we will continue to mobilize more children and we are optimistic this will change with time.”
Abrehaley says there is a need to secure more resources for the school to provide a high-quality education.
“There is unbalanced ratio between the students and facilities in terms of textbooks, classrooms, and toilets. We have a critical need for more toilets for girls and boys. The three blocks with nine squat toilets are not enough because, on average, 183 students have to share one toilet.”
There is no enrollment cost for refugee children and schools are managed by ARRA. The school materials are provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to ARRA which distributes them to schools. The programme is funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office.
In addition to the school kits and exercise books that UNICEF has provided, discussions are ongoing with the International Rescue Committee, a UNICEF partner, to set up a reservoir tank to provide water to the school.
Education, among other sectors, was severely affected by the war, as were the refugee camps located in the northern part of the country. The COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted school access for refugee children and increased their protection risks.
Rapid needs assessments conducted so far indicate severe damages to school infrastructure, furniture and equipment, supplies and materials as well as the need for psychosocial support for children, teachers, and parents. The role of education in supporting recovery and resilience is critical and urgent support is required to enable the restoration of safe and protective education in Mai Ayini and Adi Harush refugee camps.
Despite these challenges, Fieruz is happy that she has continued her education.
“My favourite subject is English,” she says. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up so that I can help my family and other people in need.”