Conflict and poverty keeps children out of school, it is time to fight back

Only half of children in East Darfur are enrolled in school. UNICEF is working with partners to enroll and keep children in school and help drop-outs join the ALP.

Reem Abbas
East Darfur children
10 April 2022

East Darfur State is one of the poorest states in Sudan. Years of conflict in the Darfur region have left the state impoverished and let down by an extremely vulnerable educational system. The state also hosts many South Sudanese refugees who have arrived in 2015 and 2016 due to the conflict and famine in South Sudan.

Over half of a population of over 1.3 million are children, however, only 52.9% of girls and 52.6 of boys in East Darfur state enroll in school. This is an improvement from the 2015/2016 school year where the gross enrollment rate was 43%.

This means that around 207,376 school-age children are said to be out-of-school, most of them are conflict-affected, nomads and from refugee communities.

“In East Darfur, we have people with nomadic lifestyle and socially, many communities do not want to send their children to school or keep them in school because its expensive. It costs five cattle heads to send a child to school, this is how it is measured by the community. We need to make education attractive and work on the mindset” said Ali Ahmed, the head of the adults and adolescent's unit at the Ministry of Education and Guidance in East Darfur state.

Ali is one of the coordinators working closely with UNICEF on a project targeting host communities and refugees in Adila and Abu Krinka, two localities in the state.

“We create a better learning environment for children to enroll them in schools and keep them there. We also invest in the ALP programme to absorb out-of-school students and re-integrate them into the system,” said Ali.

The programme targets children who are out-of-school as well as refugee children as the state continues to host refugees from South Sudan. The ALP is best described as an alternative venue of learning for children and adolescents who missed the opportunity to join schooling or have left the official school system at some point and this includes children affected by emergencies and conflict.

East Darfur state is considered an emergency due to the high numbers of refugees as well as years of sustained conflict. This emergency warranted UNICEF to intervene to ensure that refugee children as well as children from host communities have access to early childhood development and education.

The project had a holistic approach as it worked to rehabilitate and construct classrooms, construct ALP centers, train teachers as well as other activities.

In East Darfur, 60 ALP teachers received training on education in emergencies, the ALP curriculum and life skills. It should be noted that the schools here were either destroyed or abandoned during the conflict and they are also in extremely poor condition.

“All the ALP centers are inside schools, and we targeted two schools in Adila and two schools in Abu-Karinka localities with refugee and host communities. We support pre-school, the basic school as well as the ALP programme and this was done through working with teachers and parents,” said Awatif Dowelbait, an education officer at UNICEF’s office in East Darfur.

One of the highlights of the programme is involving refugee teachers in the ALP programme.

“We trained refugees from South Sudan on the programme because they benefit the community through their English language skills and also because it makes refugee students feel safer and more at home,” said Awatif.

Sudan continues to host more than one million refugees and asylum seekers, including more than 810,000 South Sudanese refugees: the second largest figure in the region (after Uganda)[1] as well as some 60,000 Ethiopian refugees who recently fled conflict in the Tigray region. The refugees live in host communities that are also struggling with poverty, conflict and marginalization.

Supporting refugee and host communities is a critical formula to ensuring peaceful co-existence and this requires investing in the health and education of children who make up 715,000 of the 1.1 million refugees.

This great effort was due to the tremendous support and generous funding of the US fund for UNICEF and this is part of a multi-year and multi-country project from the Latter-Day Saint Charities.



[1] UNHCR: Sudan Population Dashboard: Refugees and Asylum-seekers (as of 28 February 2019).