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Education offers hope to thousands of boys and girls displaced in Sudan

By Alastair Beach

All too often, adolescent girls disappear from the development agenda, even as progress is made on education, health, HIV/AIDS and protection against violence. The importance of redoubling efforts and focusing on adolescent girls is the emphasis of the 2015 International Day of the Girl Child. This year’s theme is ‘The power of the adolescent girl: Vision for 2030’.

Girls like Maryam, who rely on fading memories of lives left behind when they fled conflict in Sudan, are arming themselves with the skills required to help rebuild their countries, thanks to an education programme reaching the children of Zamzam camp, North Darfur.

EL FASHER, Sudan, 30 September 2015 – The childhood memories of Maryam Ahmed are threadbare and fading – but they are not forgotten.

© UNICEF Sudan/2015
“I want to study engineering because I would like to contribute to the building of our country,” says Maryam, 16, who has spent the past 10 years displaced in her own country.

The 16-year-old still remembers where she comes from, a small village called Konjara, deep in the countryside of North Darfur. She remembers the farms, most of all, but recalls little else.

She also remembers why she had to leave. “It was because of the conflict,” she says.

In a region where thousands of childhoods have been marked by conflict, it is an explanation that has become terribly mundane.

Maryam is one of Darfur’s ‘war children’ – girls and boys who have spent most of their lives living with the consequences of Sudan’s conflicts.

Now a resident of Zamzam camp – a huge settlement for internally displaced people in North Darfur – she has spent the past 10 years displaced in her own country.

And yet thanks to the UNICEF-supported education programmes in the region, she is being given an opportunity to enjoy rights that are so often taken for granted.

Building for the future

There are around 120,000 people people living in Zamzam, a huge camp about half an hour’s drive south of El Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur.

Within the camp – a sandy city of round tukul huts, mud-brick walls and winding alleyways – there are 49,169 children (21,008 boys & 28,161 girls) school-age children (4-17 years).

UNICEF has supported the construction of more than 26 schools in Zamzam camp. For children like Maryam, these schools have provided a lifeline to a more stable and secure future. Maryam and her peers can now enjoy one of the most fundamental rights – the right of every child to an education.

As a pupil at Al-Salaam 18, she gets to study her favourite subjects – mathematics and Koranic studies. Eventually, she hopes to become an engineer. “I want to study engineering because I would like to contribute to the building of our country,” she says.

It is an ambition that, in Zamzam’s education system, is not beyond the realm of possibility.

According to Mohamed Ahmed, the government’s director of education for Zamzam, the camp has some of the top schools in North Darfur.

In the most recent examination results league tables, one of the schools – Al Salaam 38 – came in sixth overall for the state, says Mr. Ahmed.

“This high achievement is down to the support from UNICEF and Plan Sudan,” he says. Plan Sudan is the organization that has helped implement the school-building programme.

“We have high competition here,” he adds. “There are five other schools that are also very successful, but not like Al Salaam 38.”

Sound schools, sound enrolment

Mr. Ahmed says that North Darfur is divided into six educational districts. Zamzam comprises one of these districts, and ranks second most successful in the whole state, he says.

“We feel very happy with these results,” says Mr. Ahmed. “Over the past year, the schools have been celebrating these big achievements.”

According to Abdullah Adam Mohamed, head of one of Zamzam’s parent–teacher associations, these results are partly a result of the strong competition between schools in the camp.

He adds that Zamzam has an enviable track record on enrolment rates. “Almost all the school-age children here are in school,” he says. “The ones who are not often come from poor families,” he adds.

According to Mr. Mohamed, around 5 per cent of children aged 6–16 are not enrolled. Some have parents who cannot afford the 15 Sudanese pound (US$2.50) monthly fee, he says.

Others come from areas of the camp with large populations of newly arrived families. There are about 4,000 such children who have entered Zamzam this year, he adds.

The issue of education for girls like Maryam is not a problem in Zamzam. There is a roughly 50–50 split throughout the camp, says Mr. Ahmed – 9,604 boys and 9,203 girls.

Challenges to face

In addition to the barrier of poverty, UNICEF and partners are facing a variety of challenges. “We already need additional schools for the new arrivals,” says Mr. Mohamed. We’re waiting for permission to build from the ministry of education, but we need five new schools.”

As in other areas of Sudan, retention of pupils can be an issue. Often, dropping out is linked to poverty. Additionally, orphaned or abandoned children may not receive encouragement to go to school.

“If there is a problem between the parents, this can create problems with the children,” adds Mr. Mohamed. “Sometimes, if the parents divorce, the child goes to stay with either the mother or the father. It means they do not stay in one place and may find it difficult to go to school.”

There are other challenges. Zamzam is the only camp in North Darfur open to new arrivals. It means overcrowding can become a problem, says Mr. Ahmed, with lessons sometimes taking place with more than 100 pupils.

In addition, resources are limited. Students have to work sitting on floor mats, while textbooks are often shared among three pupils.

But, despite the challenges, thousands of pupils like Maryam Ahmed have been able to benefit from an education, thanks to the assistance being provided by UNICEF with sustained support from the European Union and Qatar’s Educate a Child fund, key contributors to basic education in the area.

Maryam is aware of how essential such a kick start in life can be.

“I like going to school for my education,” she says. “Education is one of the most important things in life.”



UNICEF Photography: Education

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