How to improve the quality of education in refugee camps? Qualify the teachers.

In Ethiopia, refugee incentive teachers are on their way to obtaining professional teaching diplomas.

By Amanda Westfall 

On 17 August, South Sudanese and Sudanese refugees Anur, Sami, James, Abdalaziz, and Poch went to college for the first time. They are part of the first group of 42 refugees on their way to becoming professional teachers.

As agents of change for their communities, they will use their new skills to improve the quality of education for refugee children. Abdalaziz Ramada, Sami Balla, and James Jawalla have been refugees for 7 years. Anur Ismael has been a refugee for 20 years. Poch Jackson Petov has been a refugee for 25 years, his entire life.

All five fled the conflict in Sudan and South Sudan. All five lost loved ones, families and friends. Some, like Poch and James, have survived as refugees with no family at all –either lost or killed in the conflict.

All are known as ‘refugees’ to their friends, to Ethiopian host communities, the Ethiopian government, and to the world. With this status they cannot legally work in Ethiopia and have had limited opportunities for college or university to enhance their skills and become professionals… Until now.

In July this year, 42 refugee incentive teachers in Benishangul-Gumuz region were given an opportunity of a life time. Abdalaziz, James, Amur, Sami, Poch, and 37 others were enrolled in the region’s teachers’ college. The refugees rode a bus for eight hours, moved onto the GilGel-Beles College of Teachers Education campus, and are currently studying for their teaching diplomas.

For refugee teachers, long-term opportunities for skills development have been nearly non-existent, since trainings are typically offered as short courses, giving them the minimum skills to educate refugee children. Therefore, and not surprisingly, only 33 per cent of those who teach in primary schools in the region are qualified professional teachers who hold teaching diplomas. This means that the majority of refugee children are receiving their primary education from unqualified personnel, many of whom have not even completed secondary school (23 per cent).

However, the Ethiopian Government has made a commitment to improve the situation for refugees and give them opportunities to integrate within Ethiopian society, as demonstrated by the government’s nine pledges to support refugees and the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework process in Ethiopia. They understand that it is crucial to provide opportunities to refugees for career growth, especially in the teaching sector, so that the quality of education in the camps can improve and that children have better education, better opportunities, and better skills to make positive contributions to their communities – whether in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, or where ever they end up in the future.

A Desire for More Opportunities

South Sudanese refugees and current college students, Poch Jackson Petov and Hamid Abdallah Hamad in front of Gilgel-BelesCollege of Teacher Education. © UNICEF Ethiopia 2018 Amanda Westfall
South Sudanese refugees and current college students, Poch Jackson Petov and Hamid Abdallah Hamad in front of Gilgel-Beles College of Teacher Education. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Amanda Westfall

The opportunity arose because of an ambition to expand knowledge. In 2017, Poch, along with his colleagues demanded more opportunities. In the camps, all they earn is 700 Ethiopian Birr per month (about US$25) to ‘volunteer’ full time as teachers in primary schools. With no chances to go to college, become professionals, and earn a decent wage, something had to change.

“We had a meeting with school principals. We asked them, ‘Why can’t we get training to improve our skills?’ We are stuck in one position. Then we waited. Finally, [the opportunity] came and we have a partner to help us continue education.” (Poch)

Because of his ambition to expand his knowledge, as well as his understanding of the Ethiopian language, Amharic, Poch is the group’s student representative at the college. And he fought a hard life to reach this status. After his father was killed in the conflict in South Sudan, his mother fled to a refugee camp in Ethiopia while he was still in the womb. When he was in Grade 2, a conflict broke out in the camp and he was separated from his mother, never to see her again. With incredible determination, he managed to learn Amharic, gain a full primary and secondary education, and become an incentive teacher (in addition to being the best football goal keeper in Sherkole Camp). But just being a ‘volunteer teacher’ with no relevant qualifications was not enough.

Dreams for College Become Reality

In early 2018, UNICEF, UNHCR, and the Ethiopian Government, along with financial support from Education Cannot Wait, made dreams become reality. Posh, Anur, Sami, James, Abdalaziz, the 37 others from the Benishangul-Gumuz Region, and 301 others from Gambella Region were going to college.

In total, the programme brings 343 refugees to study and learn with their fellow ‘host’ Ethiopian students. The courses are taught in English, and they can choose which track to study, from Generalist, to Physical Education, Integrated Sciences, Math, Social Science, or English. They are provided with a full scholarship, which includes education, room and board, health care, and transport services to/from the college or camps. The regional government and colleges support with training, learning and integration at the school, while UNICEF, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and UNHCR coordinate, finance, and manage the project.

A Chance for Generational Change

These refugee student-teachers are part of a new movement of change for the refugee communities. With new skills in teaching methodology, classroom management, and course-specific instruction, their knowledge will be passed on to the children in the camps.

As James and Sami explain, “I am proud of this programme. It will enable me to improve the knowledge of my community.” (James)

“Now, we can go back with the diploma and say we are teachers and we are professionals! I now have pride to work at the school.” (Sami)

With their new diplomas, Posh, Anur, Sami, James and Abdalaziz explained that they want to go back to the camps and use their new skills to improve the quality of education for their communities.

As the first group to enjoy this opportunity, they now set an example for future refugee student-teachers, so that each year the quality of education for refugee children continues to improve with an increase in more qualified teachers.

A child’s example demonstrates the need for integrating educational services for refugees and host communities in western Ethiopia.

By Amanda Westfall

On 21 December 2017, eight-year-old Ethiopian Sefadin Yisak speaks about his friend on the hill, Adam, a nine-year-old, South Sudanese refugee boy. When boundaries, legal restrictions and cultural differences can divide communities, it is the children who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

Children truly know no borders. To Sefadin Yisak, an Ethiopian student at Tsore Arumela Ethiopian Primary School, Adam, a South Sudanese refugee who attends primary school within the neighbouring refugee settlement, is just his good friend. Sefadin doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or in the quality of educational services. He only sees the South Sudanese refugee boy as his good friend that he met at the river over the summer. They meet and play in the water with other neighbourhood kids when they don’t have school or other chores to do.

“To Sefadin, Adam (a South Sudanese refugee) is just his good friend. He doesn’t see the differences in history, culture or educational services.”

But from an adult’s perspective, it is evident that educational services have not been equal between refugees and their host-Ethiopian communities. With the host primary school only a 15-minute walk from the refugee settlement, one can truly notice the differences.

In addition to their struggle to survive and flee from conflict, the South Sudanese refugees experience lack of quality education due to unskilled teachers, overcrowded class sizes and exclusion from the national educational system and the services it provides. On the other hand, some refugee settlements have in some cases benefited from other services, including better-constructed classrooms, play equipment and materials for teaching, while the host communities often experience a lack of funding to improve classroom infrastructure and educational materials.

Thus, these inequalities in educational provisions can create social barriers that could potentially build unnecessary tension between communities. In reality, there are more similarities between the communities than differences, such as language, food, family customs, and a passion for education.

When South Sudanese people residing in Ethiopia for multiple years (some over 20 years, some less than one year), and children from both communities – like Sefadin and Adam – show us the importance of integration, it is crucial to support this clear demand.

Sefadin says that his favourite school subject is mathematics because his 2nd grade teacher, Ahmed Mustefa, is very helpful. Ahmed explains the importance of integration with the refugee communities. He noted that the communities never lived in conflict, but that the lack of integrated services has limited the amount of authentic social interaction with the refugee community who live just a short walk away. He adds, “We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization.”

“We are all human beings and when we live together it is better for socialization”

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Children at Sefadin’s host-community primary school play on equipment provided with the support of UNICEF. The refugee settlement is visible in the top left corner, where schools also enjoy the same play equipment provided with UNICEF’s support. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

Institutions recognize the need

Institutions have started recognizing the need, and in response have begun providing services that support integration. With the support of the United States Government (US-BPRM), UNICEF has been working with partners – the Ministry of Education, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, UNHCR, and Save the Children – to bring equitable and efficient educational services that spark social cohesion for both communities.

Refugee and Ethiopian teachers join the same training programme

Ahmed’s teacher training programme is a prime example.  In his region of Benishangul-Gumuz, 149 refugee teachers and 225 host-community teachers have all taken part in the new UNICEF-developed teacher training flagship programme, Assessment for Learning. This new approach shows teachers how to implement continuous assessment techniques to better understand the learning gaps of children and respond accordingly.

It is the first of its kind – where refugee and national teachers learn the same skills at the same time. Ahmed and other teachers from both communities stayed in the same dorms for the 10-day course, learned from each other, and now feel more part of each other’s communities. Before this training, refugee and national teachers never interacted professionally. They were trained with different programmes, and in most cases, it was the refugee teachers who missed out on professional development and teacher enhancement opportunities. Now, with more equality in refugee and host-community teachers’ knowledge and skills, Ethiopian students, like Sefadin, and refugee students, like Adam, both benefit from teachers who were trained in the same teacher training programme.

Integration through sport and play

What’s most exciting about the integrated response is the development of sport and play activities. Both communities now enjoy new play equipment and learning and play materials such as balls, toys, puzzles, counting blocks, and others. Teachers are trained on the “Connect, Reflect, Apply” approach, to develop useful life skills in children. Both Sefadin and Adam now have new equipment to play and are learning the same life skills, in addition to enjoying the benefits of new solar-powered TV’s that display educational programmes.

More efforts are necessary for sustained integration

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Sefadin and his 2nd Grade teacher, Mr. Ahmed Mustefa © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Martha Tadesse

While some refugee settlements in Ethiopia have experienced integration, in terms of students attending the same school, teacher training integration, or social cohesion through extra-curricular activities, many communities still lack support for equitable integration.

Communities have started to integrate, whether it be working for each other during harvesting season, inter-marriage, or making friendships while playing in the river. Even Sefadin’s family is now supporting Adam’s family with food provisions, like sorghum, maize and mango.

It is time to truly respond to the needs on the ground. Ahmed insisted that “we need more programmes like these for integration,” as he reflected on his new friendships he developed with refugee teachers from the training programme.  And young Sefadin adds that it would be “cool if Adam were in my class.”

When boundaries, cultural differences, and varying educational services can divide communities, it is the children – like Ethiopian Sefadin and South Sudanese Adam – who remind us of the great importance of social integration.

UNICEF continues to work with partners to implement programmes that spark integration of refugees and host communities in all five refugee-hosting regions of Ethiopia so that cross-cultural friendships, like that of Sefadin and Adam, can be supported with an equality in educational services.

What it takes to truly educate a girl in Ethiopia – An entire system investing in quality education

By Amanda Westfall

Filmawit Layn, a ten-year-old girl at Addishihu Primary School in the Emba Alaje Woreda (District), Tigray Region is the type of student and daughter most parents dream of – smart, beautiful, and extremely confident.

EMBA ALAJE WOREDA, TIGRAY, 01 December 2017 – Filmawit Layn is from rural Ethiopia and attends public school, where although school structures and teachers are in place, the quality of teaching has been notably weak. In Ethiopia, less than half of all primary school students are passing their end-of-year exams, and only 4 per cent of Grade 2 students can proficiently read (NAEA 2016 and EGRA 2014).

These statistics raise concerns if children – like Filmawit – are actually learning at school and developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams, and lead their country one day.

“…if children – like Filmawit -are developing skills that will help them reach their full potentials, realize their dreams and lead their country one day.”

To address these concerns, UNICEF and the Government introduced the Assessment for Learning (AfL) initiative – where teachers are equipped with skills, resources and a supporting environment to shift their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students, with the ultimate goal of improving learning outcomes.

Through UNICEF-designed capacity building workshops, teachers are learning how to collect real-time information on their students’ learning levels. This way teaching is better informed, lesson planning is better prepared, and wider support is given to children.

“Teachers are shifting their teaching approaches to become more active, continuous, competency-based, and engaging for students.”

Filmawit lives with her grandmother, Belaynesh Mengiste, who fortunately understands the value of education. Belaynesh was just in 4th grade, when she had to leave school to fight in the terrible civil war against the former Derg Regime, putting an end to her childhood education. Thus, she does not want the same thing to happen for her granddaughter. While most parents require their children to help out with livelihood chores (farming, caring for livestock, collecting water), Belaynesh instead decided to enroll Filmawit in extra language classes. Balaynesh’s goal is for Filmawit to score high grades on her final primary exam so that when she reaches 8th grade, she could be accepted in the elite Kalamino Secondary School in Mekele where the smartest children in Tigray go to.

Girls Education-Tigray
Filmawit and her grandmother / caretaker Belaynesh Mengiste ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Amanda Westfall

Committed community leaders bring quality education to girls

It takes not only teachers, but an entire community to bring quality education to girls like Filmawit.

With AfL, parents and caretakers – like  Filmawit’s Grandmother, Belaynesh Mengstie – have begun to play a more active role in the learning process of their children. Before AfL, most parents hardly knew what was happening at school. Since the implementation of AfL, many schools have now started a tri-partite agreement among the student, teacher, and caretaker, where they agree on goals for the year – per subject – and review where they stand on a monthly basis.

Filmawit is lucky to have such an inspiring 4th Grade homeroom teacher. Etenesh Mulugeta is the focal point for AfL at the school. The UNICEF AfL training is normally provided to each school’s director and one or two teachers, and Etenesh was one of the beneficiaries of the training. “I am so happy to have been part of this important training and will train others. It makes life so much easier!” said Etenesh. She trained all teachers in the school, along with other teachers in the region (a total of 135 teachers). She sees vast improvements in learning because of the new techniques, mainly regarding reading and writing, where she measures levels of all of her 57 students on a monthly basis. This approach encouraged her to develop new innovative ways to fill the learning gaps, for example, by establishing peer groups in children’s neighbourhoods so they can support each other after school.

Mesele Gebre Ezgiabher, the school director, was also trained by UNICEF in AfL. Before AfL, the standard practice of teachers was to automatically give a pass grade for everyone even if they cannot read or write. Now Mesele is taking exams very seriously. “First, we must ensure that teachers base teaching on minimum learning competencies (MLCs) and with the AfL methodology. Second, promotion must be based on achievement that is linked to MLCs and students should not just automatically pass to the next grade.”

In Filmawit’s woreda where 57 primary schools are present, Tadele Berhe Woldu serves as the woreda coordinator for curriculum development. He explained that before AfL, when the schools reported on end-of-year exams, most schools gave students passing marks of 100 per cent. However, when the woreda administered the exams, the average was actually 56.8 per cent who passed for Grades 1-4. This happened because the schools used to be rewarded if all students passed, which resulted in teachers preparing simple exams to ensure that all the children passed. Now, the woreda sends experts to check the exams before they are administered, to ensure they reflect the MLCs. “We knew the schools were cheating when all of them reported a 100 per cent passing rate. This is not good for our nation … In the end the children will not have the skills to get jobs. But now, this problem is totally changing,” said Tadele.

The Government has set a goal to create a new learning generation for the country. But real learning can only be achieved if a system of teachers, school administrators, and government invest in strategies to improve the quality of teaching; if teachers are qualified, given appropriate learning materials, and taught clear methodologies to educate students. And teachers can only provide quality support if they have a system assisting them at the collegiate, woreda, regional and national levels.

AfL fits within existing educational structures, and has the utmost involvement by parents and caretakers, making it more sustainable and long-lasting. It was introduced in Ethiopia in mid-2013 and has since expanded to eight regions (includes the six regions of Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and Benishangul-Gumuz, as well as the city-states of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), with the plan to incorporate it in all eleven regions of the country.

With AfL an entire system is working together to help Filmawit realize her dreams to become an engineer so she can build a better future for her country, and even more so, to become a great leader in Africa.

In Ethiopia, passionate teachers prepare children for school

By Kosumo Shiraishi

BURKA RAMIS, OROMIA, 21 August 2017- In Burka Ramis, a remote rural village of West Hararge, Oromia region, Ethiopia, 50 young boys and girls sing cheerfully in their classroom. It is summer, a school break time for the rest of the pupils, but for these children, it is a regular class session.

Beriso Genemo, their teacher, prepares detailed weekly and monthly lesson plans. He decided to join teachers in his school who participate in summer teaching of beginners, because he understands the importance of school readiness, especially for children from rural and disadvantaged communities.

This summer initiative is known as the Accelerated-School-Readiness (ASR) programme. ASR is an innovative early learning model that lasts eight weeks and targets six-year-olds from poor families. It provides quality education by trained teachers such as Beriso to help children, who previously had no access to preschool or other early learning models, so that they make smooth transition from home to school.

Teachers prepare children for school
Beriso Genemo provides outdoor play activities for children from disadvantaged families as a part of the ASR programme in West Hararge, Oromia Region, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Kosumo

“The programme helps children to learn better and reach to their full potential,” says Beriso “I could already see their progress.”

Other ASR teachers, Huseein Ahmed from Nano Bereda School and Adana Geri from Borte School also acknowledge the importance of the programme. They explained that attending the ASR class is helpful because children can learn how to take lessons, interact with teacher and classmates and go to school by themselves.

Supporting children who don’t have the opportunity for early learning

Research shows that investing in quality early learning programmes is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s success in a school.[1] In Ethiopia, children under five comprise the largest age bracket in the population. There are approximately 10 million children aged 0-3 years, and 7.7 million children aged 4-6 years. Investing in Early Child Development (ECD) interventions, like early learning, is critical for the long-term prosperity of the country.

There are other forms of school readiness programmes in Ethiopia, the largest being the government’s “O” pre-school classes. However, ASR is one that fills a crucial gap because it operates in communities where formal preschool classes are not possible, such as in rural areas where it is difficult and costly to provide quality “O” classes.

UNICEF through the Swiss National Committee, with generous support from Roche, is currently supporting Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education to develop and implement the ASR programme in four regions (Oromia, Amhara, SNNP and Beningal-Gumuz).

Every ASR teacher participates in a comprehensive training and is provided with resource materials (books), as well as individual exercise booklets (workbooks) to distribute to each child.

The programme has generated commitment from all levels of Government, teachers communities and children as well. Abduselam, a community member from Burka Ramis says, “We appreciate this programme that prepares our children for proper education. Our community is providing support by renovating class rooms and encouraging families to send their six-year-old children to school.”

Beriso became a teacher eight years ago because he believes in empowering children and developing human resources within the country. “My dream is to see these disadvantaged children attending the ASR programme to become good citizens in our society.”

[1] Multiple research studies have evidenced the importance of early learning. See UNICEF’s research website for more details: https://www.unicef-irc.org/knowledge-pages/Early-Childhood/

Children Takeover Minister Roles as Ethiopia celebrates World Children’s Day and UNICEF Ethiopia’s 65th Anniversary

20 November 2017, United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa: Today, Ethiopia joined the global World Children’s Day celebrations by giving children high profile roles to become champions of their rights. In line with the event’s theme ‘For children, By children’ child parliamentarians took over the roles of the Ministers of: Women and Children’s Affairs; Health; Education; Water, Irrigation and Electricity; Labour and Social Affairs; and Urban Works and Construction. In addition, children took over the roles of the Attorney General and UNICEF Representative. In their new roles as ‘shadow Ministers’, children shared their ideas on issues that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Sara Beshir shadow Minister of Women and Children Affairs. Her message on World Children’s Day: attitudes towards violence angst children and women need to be changed. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

At the event, which was truly owned by children, some of the key recommendations proposed by children include:

  • Accelerate efforts to end harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
  • Provide clean water and sanitation services for all children across the country, no matter where they live
  • Build more hospitals that are focused on child health and ensure health professionals treat children with care and love
  • Involve children in child justice
  • Ensure quality education for all children through skilled teachers, including pre-primary education
  • Ensure that girls stay in school and finish their education
  • Provide more playgrounds and safe spaces, especially in urban and peri-urban settings
  • Include children’s voices when adults and local authorities discuss issues that affect children’s lives.

Child parliamentarians from different regions also had an opportunity to discuss issues relevant to children in Ethiopia with shadow Ministers and dignitaries through a Q&A session.

In her opening remarks, H.E Ms Demitu Hambisa, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, stated that this year’s World Children’s Day is a day of action for children by children. She highlighted that decision makers need to ensure that children’s voices are heard and reflected in decisions that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Minister of Women and Children Affairs , Ms Demitu Hambisa speaking during World Children’s Day. She says; listening to children’s voices and involving them in decision making is key. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, emphasising the need for the participation of children said, “Meaningful participation of children is not only a fundamental right – and enshrined as such in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but is also key to ensuring that decisions made by adults are relevant to the actual needs of children.”

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia speaking on World Children’s Day. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

In addition, UNICEF Ethiopia launched its publication ‘Hulem Lehisanat- Always for children’ depicting its 65 years history serving children and women in Ethiopia.

The event highlighted the importance of including children’s voices by providing children with an opportunity to share their own solutions on how to keep every child in Ethiopia healthy, well-nourished, in school and protected.

In Ethiopia, Girls Bravely Speak Up Against Sexually Abusive Teacher, as “Me Too” campaign kicks off worldwide

By Amanda Westfall

ADDIS ABABA, 9 OCTOBER 2017: In October 2017, UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano sparked the viral campaign, “me too,” where she asked those who had been victims of sexual abuse to say #metoo via social media. With the goal to show the scale of the issue, the campaign shocked the world as millions of women, girls, men and boys participated.

In Ethiopia, Konjit,[1] a 14-year-old eighth-grader who attends a junior-secondary school in Addis Ababa,[2] is one of these brave girls who spoke out on sexual assault. Last year, one of her closest friends confided in Konjit and told her that their teacher had been sexually abusing her. Konjit, being a member of the school gender club knew what the teacher was doing was illegal. At her weekly club meetings, she was taught about the code-of-conduct which clearly states that those acts were punishable by school law. After discussing with her friend, Konjit decided to bring the case to the gender club to discuss what steps they needed to take to punish the teacher and stop the abuse from continuing.

The word began to spread to other classmates. More girls began speaking out to say, “me too.” They were first quiet for fear and shame, but once one girl bravely spoke out they too found the courage to tell their story.

As one can imagine, this was not the safest of times for the girls for fear that the teacher would find out and do more harm. “It was scary for us because if he saw us together he may know what we were up to. We were all so afraid of the teacher,” said Konjit.

However, this did not stop them. Konjit and other gender club members were determined to help their friends. In the end they found out that at least 9 girls were sexually abused by the same teacher, some at more severe levels than others. With support from the school’s Vice Director, Ms Netsanet Abebe, the gender club brought written statements from the victims as evidence to the school’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Code of Conduct Committee who referenced the chapter that leads to severe types of misconduct. The committee unanimously made the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school also referred the case to the justice department for legal action where the teacher was then convicted in court and sent to jail for his actions.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
Ms Netsanet, Vice Director, is also the acting focal point for the gender club. The efforts made to convict and fire a teacher, who was sexually abusing girls, could not have been possible without the support of her. She gives proper guidance to Konjit and her gender club-mates about school-related gender-based violence. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

If the incidents happened only a few years earlier, the teacher would have gotten away with his actions. However, two years ago UNICEF began supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct, build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse, strengthen the capacity of gender clubs to put reporting channels in place, as well as incorporate men and boys into the clubs so that they can also play a central role in combatting gender-based violence.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct and build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse in schools while also strengthening the capacity of gender clubs. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk


Today, Konjit and her friends feel a strong sense of empowerment. Each of them took huge risks to tell their stories, but because they understood their legal rights they knew it was well worth it. The girls now know what to do to stop this from happening to other classmates. As one of the victims strongly puts it, “Now that the teacher is out, no one else would dare to do that to us. We feel stronger and more confident to take action!”

In a country like Ethiopia, where the prevalence of school-related sexual violence goes as high as 46 per cent[3] it takes courageous girls to stand up and say, “Me too” and “enough is enough!”

 

 

 

[1] The name has been changed due to confidentiality issues.

[2] Ethiopian primary school stretches for 8 years, from grade 1 – 8. Grades 7 and 8 could also be known as ‘junior secondary school’. The official age of school entry is 7 years. 

[3] Save the Children Denmark, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2008)

Girls’ Club Rescues Girls from Child Marriage in Rural Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

ZIGEM WOREDA, AMHARA REGION, 06 OCTOBER 2017 – “I went to the police station when my parents told me that I am getting married,” says Mestawet Mekuria,14, a 7th grader in Ayti Primary School, Amhara region, northern Ethiopia. She is also among 20 girl students who have been rescued from getting married in the school.

“I had learned about child marriage and its consequences in our school’s girls’ club. I told my parents that I do not want to get married. But they refused, and that is when I ran to the police station.”

Mestawet went to the police assuming that her parents will only be warned seriously. But it was much more than that. Her parents were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks for violating the law.

“I was sad when they were arrested but they refused to listen to me.”

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
Mestawet Mekurya, 14, 7th grade student at Ayti Primary School, Zigem, Amhara region. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Child marriage, a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is prevalent across all regions of Ethiopia. According to the 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), Amhara region has the second highest rate of child marriage, 56 per cent, next to Benishangul-Gumuz region which has 58.

Although, Mestawet’s parents were angry for what happened to them, later they made peace with her through a mediation which was led by village elders. “My parents now understand about child marriage and its consequences. They are no longer angry with me,” says Mestawet.

Child marriage often perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty. When girls get married at early age, their prospects for a healthy and successful life will be at stake. Evidence shows that girls who marry early are less likely to finish school and more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.

Girls’ clubs making a big impact

Strengthening girls’ club as part of the accelerated effort to end child marriage in  Zigem woreda, Amhara region was initiated in 2015 by the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) through support from UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

The ending child marriage programme focuses on enhancing the capacity of girls through providing life skill training, information about their rights and available services as well as enhancing the responsiveness of schools and legal services. It also targets families and communities to change their attitude towards ending the practice and show support to alternative life options for girls such as their education.

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
“Because we have been part of the girls club, we have rescued a girl from marrying this man her family knew” (Left to right) Mekdes Degnew, Ayehush Abera and Tigist Seyoum, 14 © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Girls’ clubs are established with the aim of preventing and mitigating school based and community based barriers to girls’ education. The clubs are making a difference in reducing child marriage by empowering girls through life skills trainings. The clubs particularly focus on engaging girls between 5th-8th grades as these represent the age group most commonly affected by child marriage.

According to Abebe Adamu, one of the trainers from Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, 106 girls were rescued from getting married in 2016 and 55 girls last year. “The community is currently aware that child marriage is harmful,” he says. “Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.”

Wubayehu Tilahun, girls’ club coordinator and a teacher at Ayti Primary School is pleased with the girls’ club performance. “Seeing my students continue their education gives me a great pleasure. Here in Ayti, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue to be fighting against this harmful practice.”

Even though girls’ clubs are currently promoting change in schools where they are active, there are still many challenges.  “Budget constraints hinders the effort to expand the exemplary role that the clubs are making in schools and communities,” says Abebe. “We have many primary schools that do not have such a functional structure like Ayti and we need more support,” he added.

Nationally, the Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to end child marriage by 2025 through enhanced coordination, budget allocation, accountability mechanism and availability of data. The establishment of a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is another significant stride in the effort to end child marriage as it has been key in coordinating interventions.

UNICEF supports the Government’s effort by strengthening the coordination mechanisms at different levels. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting the implementation of a multi-sectoral programmes in six regions: Amhara, Afar, Somali, Oromia, Gambella and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region. The programme includes social mobilization to change attitudes and strengthen collective community action to end the practice. It also focuses on improving enforcement of the existing legal frameworks.

To further strengthen and accelerate efforts to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities, UNICEF has also established strategic partnership with major faith based and civil society organizations.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice, and I want girls to continue with their education like me,” says Mestawet. “I have seen my classmates quit school because they are married. I always tell my friends in my village about child marriage, and I will continue to do so to others”.

Mestawet wants to become either a doctor or a teacher. It might be years before she realizes her dreams but in the meantime, she keeps protecting girls in her village, including her own younger sister, from getting married early.