Learning reaches displaced and refugee children in Niger

Tents are serving as classrooms at informal settlements along the Route Nationale 1

By Anne Boher
A child and his mother in their shelter made of sticks and mosquito nets.
22 March 2016

ABOUNGA, Niger, 22 March 2016 – When we meet Gambo Ali at the Abounga spontaneous site for displaced people, she can’t tell us her age. But she tells us about how she sold food in the streets of her village, Tam, for a year, to help support the family.

Tam is in Diffa region, in the south-east of the Niger, close to Nigeria. Like many other families at the Abounga site, Gambo and her family fled their home to escape violence and threats from the group Boko Haram.

That was some months ago. Here, the family are among thousands of people making this informal site along the Route Nationale 1 home, along this main road that crosses the region from West to East. Abounga is one of the 135 official sites that have cropped up along this road, hosting hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced, who are returnees, who are refugees.

Most of them are women and children.

A dramatic displacement

The flight and resettlement of families like Gambo’s is part of a series of simultaneous crises affecting the country. Official figures report more than 310,000 people in the Niger affected in 2015. A massive movement of more than 100,000 people in only two months caused dramatic humanitarian consequences not only for the displaced population, but also for host communities, overwhelmed by the massive arrivals and with an unsustainable pressure on already limited resources.

>> Learn more about the humanitarian situation in the Niger

Life in Abounga is relatively peaceful, but not easy. Gambo’s home is a small cluster of straw and coloured fabric that she shares with seven relatives, including her mother. Her father stayed behind in Tam. There is no toilet and no water, and food is always in short supply.

But UNICEF partner COOPI is working to improve the prospects for children in the informal sites by helping them get an education.

Gambo misses her friends, but she approves. “When my mother heard about the opening of a school in Abounga, she decided to resettle us here. She did well.”

Carrying the school to Abounga

Moustapha Diri was the director of the Tam school. Today, here in Abounga, he is inside one of the 10 tents that serve as classrooms for the site’s children. The tents have been provided by UNICEF, but the tables and benches were carried to Abounga by the villagers. He stands at the front, lecturing the young students sitting on the benches. Most can’t read or write.

“We had to leave behind all of our possessions,” Mr. Diri tells us, later on. “The only thing we could bring with us is what we have in our heads, what we have been taught – our education.

“Education is the only thing that cannot be taken from us.”

Keeping children learning

Mr. Diri recognizes that the students have “lost a lot of knowledge”, and that it’s critical that they restart their education immediately. “If they stay out of school,” he says, “they are at risk of never coming back.”

After one year out of school, children like Gambo can catch up, he insists – “They can learn back what they forgot.”

And this learning is pivotal to their futures, and the future of the country, says Mr. Diri. For these children, the right track means education, a pen and a book, which will help both build their future and arm them against pressure to join the violence around them.

The role of education

Mr. Diri and the other villagers of Tam know the value of an education. Oumarou Boka, Education Officer for COOPI, has been setting up the temporary schools at the various sites. He explains the immediate benefit. Emergency education programmes have demonstrated a measurable decrease in the number of displaced and refugee minors who are conscripted into the fighting forces that develop in times of conflict. “Experience shows that education has a preventive effect on recruitment, abduction and gender-based violence, and thereby serves as an important protection tool,” he says.

The partnership with COOPI has already benefitted 1,444 children in 31 temporary schools. Thanks to donors and implementing partners, UNICEF has guaranteed 5,492 children in Diffa region access to school. The partners have constructed 60 temporary classrooms and 10 new permanent classrooms, and provided manuals, school kits and training to teachers.

Additionally, UNICEF has provided support to the Government of the Niger to set up 42 temporary classrooms for 2,100 children. Through this same strategy, the government has reached 2,492 children. The goal is to educate displaced children so they can be integrated into the regular school system.

In Abounga alone, 170 children, including Gambo, are back to learning. The World Food Programme is helping to build an energetic student body by providing food three times a day to the students.

Gambo’s future

Away from labour and back to the books, Gambo says she now dreams of becoming a teacher. “I am not afraid anymore,” she says. “I can play with my friends and go to school. I want to acquire knowledge because knowledge is key, it’s very important. It can help you become a teacher or a doctor.”

Gambo’s mother, Fatima, also has high hopes for the future, despite the challenges the family face. “Parents now understand the importance of school. Before, in Tam, they didn’t [always] send our children to school, but here they do, because they understand it is crucial to evolve,” she says.

“A child who is lucky enough to go to school will avoid taking a wrong path and will help his or her parents.”


UNICEF believes that, including during emergencies, children are entitled to the safe environment that school can help provide. Access to school allows them to engage with peers, re-establish a sense of normalcy and purpose and escape from the losses and deprivations surrounding their displacement.

Basic supplies for primary education are urgently needed to realize the right to education for children who have been displaced, and host communities. UNICEF plans to provide education to 20,000 school-aged girls and boys (aged 7 to 14 years) in Diffa region this year, compared to 6,446 in 2015. In line with the country’s inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan, UNICEF is requesting US$39,516,271 to meet the humanitarian needs of children in the Niger in 2016. This figure includes US$3 million beyond the Humanitarian Response Plan to cover education.

Learn more about the humanitarian needs of children in the Niger

Learn more about the humanitarian needs of children affected by the Nigerian regional crisis