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An emphasis on education for migrant communities in Eritrea

© UNICEF/2009/Mareso
A group of children gathered together in one of the corrugated iron classrooms of the Complementary Elementary Education centre in Geleb, Eritrea.

By Miriam Mareso

GELEB, Eritrea, 17 April 2009 – Over the past three years, the Tigré community in Geleb, on the Eritrean coast, has seen improved access to education for its children, as well as increase safe water and use of latrines. The availability of such services has greatly improved the quality of life for members of this nomadic community, who live part of the year in semi-desert areas.

“I’m the oldest one among all these people, and I have seen so many things happen in our community and in Eritrea. But what we have now, we have never seen before – the clean water, the school… This gives us hope,” says one of the elders in the community.

Education, in particular, has brought a sense of fulfillment to the community members. The elders say their children are learning new concepts and skills, which they hope will provide a future different from their own lives, which are largely determined by the daily struggle for survival and seasonal migrations in search of water. 

“I am sitting here, watching our children go to school. And I am doing my best to help them learn what is important, to save them from ignorance. When I hear our children speak English and other languages, this is what makes me feel fulfilled,” says the elder.

New opportunities for nomadic children

Nomadic populations in Eritrea move twice a year between the lowlands and the highlands. These migrations are incompatible with the formal school calendar. Generally, classes are already in session when the time comes for nomadic children to resettle. As a consequence, they end up being excluded from the formal system.

© UNICEF/2009/Mareso
An elder speaks of his gratitude for the projects that have changed lives in Geleb.

Non-formal Complementary Elementary Education (CEE), with its flexible calendar, is more suitable to their migration patterns. As a result, CEE is having a positive impact on access to education for nomadic boys and girls by providing them with new opportunities for learning.
The establishment of education committees composed of community elders, mothers and fathers has also contributed to the increased value attributed to the education of girls amongst pastoralists – and to the appreciation of its long-term benefits for the community as a whole.
“UNICEF and the government request that we send more girls to school,” said the elder. “This is a piece of welcome advice. The community is a combination of boys and girls. Unless the girls are developed, the community cannot develop. The sun gives light to the outside world in the daytime. The moon and the stars shine in the sky at night. The light inside our homes is given by our women and our girls. Education can make that light even brighter.”

The way forward

So far, education for pastoralists has mainly been provided through CEE in Eritrea. But the country is now moving towards developing a provision that is tailored around the needs and lifestyles of this group.

In December 2008, the first National Consultation Conference on Nomadic Education was held in Eritrea. The event, led by the Eritrean Ministry of Education and supported by UNICEF, saw the participation of a representative from the Kenyan Ministry of Education and of elders and representatives from several Eritrean nomadic communities.

The event sealed UNICEF collaboration with the Ministry of Education towards the conceptualization of a nationwide policy for Nomadic Education in Eritrea and renewed the country’s commitment to provide basic social services to this minority group.



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