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A second chance to learn: a call for peace

Caught up in conflict, Idrissa not only experienced violence, he also missed out on education. He’s now back in school, delivering messages of peace.

By Helen Sandbu Ryeng and Cindy Cao

Caught up in conflict, Idrissa not only experienced violence, he also missed out on education. He’s now back in school, delivering messages of peace.

“It was painful to be out of school,” starts Idrissa Toure, 14, who fled his home region of Kidal four years ago.

No word from him is needed: the scars on his body tell his story.

Following the outbreak of the 2012 conflict in Mali, numerous schools in the northern region of Kidal were destroyed or occupied by armed forces, while children were exposed to violence and exploitation.

The young boy will never forget when his brother’s shop was looted and the killing of five relatives. “We didn’t have enough food and water. It could go up to 15 days before we could shower,” he recalls.

Idrissa was only 10 when he escaped from Kidal to Gao with his parents.


“We didn’t have enough food and water.”


His father sent him to Sevare, Mopti in Central Mali where the situation, although still volatile, is better to continue his education.

After having his life turned upside down, he’s now at Moulaye Dembele school, where he feels happy. Going back to school means so much to Idrissa: a sense of stability, a safe environment, and a chance for a brighter future.

“I go to school to prepare my future and take care of my family,” he says. He loves learning about history and French.

Being back in school has renewed his hopes. When he grows up, he dreams of becoming Minister of Agriculture, because he enjoys farming.

However, there is still a long way to go before returning to a normal life.

Additional efforts are required from children like Idrissa who have been more disadvantaged because of their experience of the war. “I’m behind in all subjects and I’m still in primary school,” he says.

“Training is provided to teachers to enable them to provide psycho-social support to children like Idrissa,” says Sharmila Pillai, Education in Emergencies specialist with UNICEF Mali.

“Most importantly, these children now have another chance to go to school after having had their education interrupted – often in traumatizing circumstances. They need special attention to be able to catch up.”


“I’ll advise children about peace.”


UNICEF also supported Idrissa’s school through the construction of temporary learning spaces and the provision of school materials and equipment.

Idrissa misses his hometown. “I love Kidal and I really want to go back. If there is peace and schools reopen, I will go back in a heartbeat,” he says.

He hasn’t heard from his friends there for a very long time. “I hope they are alive.”

The young boy lives now with his aunt and cousins in Mopti. In other parts of this region, violence is currently spreading and 248 schools are still closed due to insecurity, affecting 80,000 children in Mopti region alone. With the number of closed schools there doubling in only one year, the situation remains extremely worrying.

Out-of-school children not only miss out on schooling, they are also exposed to other risks, including child marriage, child labor and other forms of exploitation and abuse.

Faced with this complex problem, UNICEF and partners from the education cluster are putting into place a series of measures to seek to ensure uninterrupted schooling for every child in Mali.

“It hurts me to hear that students are deprived of their education,” says Idrissa. “I hope they will all be back in school,” he says.

Idrissa is now an ambassador for peace. “When I’m 50, I’ll tell children about the war and the terrible effects of the conflict. I’ll advise children about peace.”



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