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Against the odds, schoolgirls in conflict area of Darfur sit their exams

© UNICEF Sudan/2012
Fatima Adam Ali sitting for her Grade 8 Examinationsw in Jerbel Marra, West Darfur

By Sara McGinty

Geneina, April 22 2012:   Fatima Adam Ali lives in an IDP Camp in Nertiti, a town in the rebel-controlled area of Jebel Marra in Darfur.  Jebel Marra has been inaccessible to the humanitarian community since fighting in Darfur erupted in 2004.  Security and instability has hindered systematic approaches to delivering aid.

The eldest child in the family, 15 year old Fatima lives with her mother and younger siblings. Her father, the family’s main provider, died some years ago.     In order to help the family make ends meet, Fatima works every Thursday and Sunday in the local market making bricks.  In one day’s backbreaking work, she can make about 500 bricks, which she sells for 10 Sudanese pounds (about $2.00). 

After supplementing her family’s income, Fatima’s earnings allow her to pay for her school feesAfter supplementing her family’s income, Fatima’s earnings allow her to pay for her school fees.  Although she misses two days of school each week due to her job, she remains devoted to her studies.  

Because of the situation in Jebel Marra, schools in the area have had little opportunity for development. Training for teachers has been minimal and new materials for classrooms a scarcity.  Yet communities and teachers alike remain committed to ensuring children receive an education and keeping the schools operational.  And, despite the ongoing instability, UNICEF has been able to provide some education materials and support to schools in the area. 

This year, in March, 2012, Fatima took her Grade 8 examination.  Her fellow students assisted her in paying the examination fees by each contributing what little they could until she had the total sum.

© UNICEF Sudan/2012
Exam papers being prepared for transportation to Jebel Marra

Ensuring the exams took place at all was no small achievement, and, as in previous years, UNICEF worked coordinated with the State Ministry of Education to transport examinations throughout the region ensuing  that the papers and supervisors reached the centres in time. 

“The logistics involved were really complicated,” said UNICEF State Representative, David Tsetse. “Working with the authorities, we had to organize for the exam papers and other materials to be transported by road and sometimes by air, after first getting the necessary permission from rebel troops and local authorities to enter Jebel Marra. Then there were the security measures that had to be put in place to protect the children and the examination supervisors.”

It is the one time of year that rebels, government, and the humanitarian community work together, united in a desire to serve the children. This year, as a result, a total of 2,900 students in Jebel Marra were able to sit their grade 8 exams like other children in West Darfur and across Sudan.

For students like Fatima, the results will be crucial in determining whether they will continue their studies in secondary school.



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