Education in adversity: South Sudanese refugee children insist on their right to attend school

By Elissa Jobson

Child protection Kule Refugee camp  1 and 2
Crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp demand to be allowed onto the school’s premise 23, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELLA, ETHIOPIA, 25 JUNE 2014 – “School is good for the boy and the girl,” sings ten-year old Nyanget Tohok, her voice, cutting through the midday humidity, rings out clean and clear. “SCHOOL IS GOOD FOR THE BOY AND THE GIRL,” chorus the crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp.

They have not come for lessons. They are not there to collect their schoolbooks. They are there to demand their right to an education. “We are singing for school,” says Nyanget. “We need to learn but there is no space.” The school only has room for 1,200 children but more than 6,000 students registered and are waiting to enrol when the space allows. The exiting places were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

“When we don’t come to school we cannot be happy. We have seen our friends coming to school but we are not given a chance to learn,” laments Majiok Yien, aged 9. This young boy wants to be an English teacher but his dream has been violently interrupted by the civil war raging in South Sudan, which forced him and his family to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

On land provided by UNHCR and the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), four 6m x 4m classrooms have been built by Save the Children with vital support from UNICEF. The school operates two shifts: one in the morning from 8am to 12pm and a second from 1.30pm-5.30pm. The class sizes are huge – 150 children each – and the whole curriculum is being taught by just 10 teachers, all recruited from the refugee community.

Returning to normality

Education
South Sudan Refugee Students attend a class in a makeshift classroom 25, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

“School is important for the children. When they are in school they forget what they have seen in the war. School is the first priority to help remind them of normal life,” explains School Director Lam Chuoth Gach, himself an exile from South Sudan’s bloody conflict. The students have been through a terrible ordeal, he adds. They have seen people – for some their parents and siblings – killed directly in front of them. They remember the sounds of the bullets and the long, arduous journey to safety in Gambella. “When we started classes it was difficult to bring their attention to the teaching but now they are listening,” Mr Gach continues. “That is why are worried about the children who are not yet in school.”

Jael Shisanya, Education Adviser for Save the Children feels that the teachers are doing a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. “They are lesson planning and they have written a timetable but the challenge we have is that the numbers of students are overwhelming. We don’t have adequate space,” she says pointing to the four tents made of wooden poles and plastic sheeting that serve as classrooms. Early childhood education is taking place under a tree which doubles as a church on Sundays, Ms Shisanya says, but if classes are to continue during the imminent rainy season a more suitable location will have to be found. “Funding is an issue. We could do much more. We could build better structures. But we need more money for education,” she insists.

“The children are eager to learn and the community itself is yearning for school. ‘We can look for food but we can’t easily get education for our children,’ the parents tell me. They don’t want their children to forget what they have learnt,” Ms Shisanya says.

Adolescents not catered for

Education
14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place in a makeshift classroom in Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia, 25 June 2014 . ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

For the children themselves, education is a lifestyle, an essential part of their weekly routine. “I need to go to school. On Sunday I must go to church and on Monday I must go to school,” asserts 14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place. Buya is happy to be in school but he wishes that the situation was better. “There are no desks. The classroom is very small. We need pens, uniforms, bags and umbrellas for when it rains. There are no exercise books or text books and many children are outside. You need to build more schools, and build a library,” he says.

Currently the school is only teaching grades one to four. “I’m studying grade four but it is not really my grade,” Buya explains – in South Sudan he was in grade eight. His best friend, Changkuoth Chot, aged 18, is in the same boat. “I want to go to grade eight but it is better to be in grade four than to not be in school,” he says.

Ms Shisanya is particularly concerned about those adolescents that are not currently in education: “Teenagers are saying they are so depressed. There is no work.” There is no school.” Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella, is also worried. “Donors are more interested in providing education for younger children but it is protection issue for the older ones. If we don’t provide them with school they may go back to South Sudan to fight.”

Dech Khoat, age 19, bears these fears out. He joined the rebel White Army when the conflict began in December last year. “I’ve come for a rest from the fighting,” he says. In the future I will go back but if I can continue my education I will stay in the camp.”

Click here for latest update on South Sudan refugees status in Ethiopia.

UNICEF signed Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government. 

The signing ceremony of Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government was held on Monday 30th June 2014 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Addis Ababa, facilitated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

UN agencies signed Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government.
From right to left: Mr. Faustin Yao Representative of UNFPA in Ethiopia, Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia, Mr. Eugene Owusu – UN resident coordinator and H.E. Mr. Ahmed Shide State Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. During the signing ceremony of Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Speaking during the signing ceremony, Ato Ahmed Shide, State Minister of Finance and Economic Development said that “the support rendered through the AWPs will be instrumental for the successful implementation of the current Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of the Government as well as the next generation of the plan.” The Resident Coordinator of the UN Country Team in Ethiopia, Mr. Eugene Owusu, affirmed speaking on behalf of the UN Agencies that efforts and collaborations will be sustained at a continued scale during the coming years of the next UNDAF period.

Regional Implementing Partners and UN agencies including UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women, ILO and WFP were present as signatories.  Annual Working Plans (AWP) are prepared every two year following the Ethiopian Fiscal Year.  The preparation process starts in early March and follows a consultative approach at the regional and federal level.

 

On World Refugee Day, UNICEF calls on governments to provide child refugees with the same care, services, dignity and protection as all other children

Children in Leitchour refugee camp, Gambella region Ethiopia.
Children in Leitchour refugee camp, Gambella region Ethiopia. Children are the most affected by the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

NEW YORK, 20 June 2014 – “As violence plagues Syria and other countries across the region, record numbers of displaced children are seeking sanctuary in Europe, putting them at increased risk – both from the perils of the Mediterranean crossing and the uncertainty of what awaits them in host countries.  Many more child refugees are expected as ‘boat season’ increases the number of people attempting to make their desperate journey.

“Child refugees, many of whom are unaccompanied, are often detained in unsafe and unsuitable conditions.  They are also far more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and other violations of their rights.

“Every child is entitled to the protections set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; few need them more than child refugees.  On World Refugee Day, UNICEF calls on governments to provide child refugees with the same care, services, dignity and protection as all other children.

“Through no fault of their own, these children have already lived through trauma beyond the ability of most people to endure; when they seek a safe haven, they should receive exactly that.”

See our Emergency and resilience page, for more refugees related resources

UNICEF Ethiopia Supports South Sudanese Children with Vaccination Services

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Nyabiel Chamjock and her nine moth old daughter in Tergol.
Nyabiel Chamjock holds her nine months old daughter closer after he gets vaccinated. Nyabiel is one of the thousands asylum seekers, who crossed into Tergol town of Akobo Woreda, the Gambella region of Ethiopia that borders with South Sudan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

TERGOL, AKOBO WOREDA (GAMBELLA REGION)- Nyabiel Chamjock, a 20-year-old South Sudanese refugee, waits in line at the vaccination post with her nine-month-old daughter in her arms. She joins a long queue of other mothers with young children who are also waiting at the post to receive vaccinations. The growing queue is evidence of an effective community mobilisation campaign carried out in the last few days. In addition to the vaccination post where Nyabiel is waiting, three more posts have been made operational to cope with demand from the rising influx of South Sudan refugees. To ensure that vaccination posts are adequately stocked with supplies – two UNICEF boats regularly deliver vaccines. Nyabiel is one of the thousands of refugees who crossed into Tergol town in January in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia bordering South Sudan. Sadly, Nyabiel lost her husband during the tribal conflict between the Murle and the Lue Nuer tribes more than a year ago. She has recently had to face more tragedy. The eruption of violence in South Sudan, in December 2013, forced Nyabiel to flee into Ethiopia in search of safe refuge. After trekking most of the day on foot, clutching her child and a few selected belongings, she managed to cross the border.

Mass Vaccination Campaign for Refugees and Host Community
After waiting 30 minutes in the queue, Nyabiel’s daughter finally receives her required vaccines. She receives an injection against measles and drops to prevent her from contracting polio; she also receives vitamin A supplementation. In addition, her mid-upper arm circumference is measured to check her nutrition status. The chubby little infant looks surprisingly healthy despite the difficult conditions that her family is facing. Before Nyabiel leaves the vaccination post she is given a card confirming her daughter’s immunisation. She is also reminded that it is important to keep the card safe for future reference.

Nyabiel understands the importance of vaccinations for her child. “I know that my child will be protected from diseases after taking the vaccines. It is difficult in this area to keep a child healthy. As it gets dry and hot, children easily fall sick,” she said.

A four years old boy from South Sudan receiving a Polio vaccination in Tergol town   A child getting a Vitamin A supplementation in Tergol town.

UNICEF supports the provision of vaccination and nutrition supplements to children affected by the conflict in South Sudan
 

The mass vaccination campaign administered to South Sudanese refugees and members of the host community in Tergol, the capital of Akobo Woreda, is supported by UNICEF in coordination with the Regional Health Bureau. The campaign started at the beginning of January 2014 and more than 95 per cent of children have been targeted for immunisation.

UNICEF has prepositioned emergency vaccine supplies in the Gambella Region to ensure a timely response to the acute emergency needs of those fleeing from the violence in South Sudan and also to the vulnerable members of the host community. The mass vaccination campaign is crucial in preventing outbreaks like measles and polio. In the context of population movement across borders – especially in emergency situations – disease outbreaks can easily occur and prevention measures need to be in place to protect vulnerable mothers and children.

“This vaccination campaign is very important for the health of children both from the host community and refugees,” says Getachew Haile, UNICEF health emergency officer.  “It protects the children from contagious viral diseases such as measles and polio,” he adds.

In addition to the provision for vaccines against measles and polio, vitamin A supplementation is also given to children aged between six months and five years. Since the Gambella Region is prone to malaria, a distribution of mosquito nets has also helped to reduce the incidence of malaria morbidity and mortality.

Coordination Work
The emergency response to South Sudan refugees in Tergol is being coordinated by the Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and UNHCR. UNICEF supports the health activities of ARRA and UNHCR in partnership with the Regional Health Bureau. Adequate planning and functional systems have been put in place to manage human resource and logistic arrangements. In addition, health workers from Gambella town and adjacent areas such as Gniengnang, Wantowa and Tergol have received a one-day orientation.

With the support of the local administration, vaccination posts have been set up in locations that are accessible to the host community and refugees. Community mobilisation work has been an integral part of the vaccination campaign to ensure that community members and refugees are aware of the campaign programme and its importance to the health of mothers and children.

Head of the Akobo Woreda health office, Samuel Yien, acknowledges the impact of UNICEF’s support. He says that the emergency vaccination campaign is going well and that the activities are monitored closely. “We are grateful for the support we received from UNICEF. We are coordinating activities together and so far the campaign is good,” he added.

The Akobo Woreda (district) is the most inaccessible area in the Gambella Region. To reach the woreda capital of Tergol, one has to take an eight-hour boat ride from Buribe town- the last town accessible by vehicle. Accessibility problems make the role of UNICEF boats essential in delivering vaccines and other supplies to the vaccination posts.

Children are the most affected by the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

Thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, have been affected by the violence that broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013. At the beginning of April 2014, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated that more than 88,000 refugees crossed over the Ethiopian border through six entry points including Tergol, since the conflict began. These people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, including food, water and health services. Mothers and their babies are visibly weak after enduring the long trek to Tergol, while some of the children are malnourished. As the influx of refugees increases and puts food supplies under strain, the nutritional status of newly arrived children deteriorates.

Although some of the refugees in Tergol are being accommodated by the host community, there are still many more staying in makeshift shelters close to the Akobo River.

Nyabiel constructed her small makeshift shelter from sticks and rags to offer some protection from the piercing sun. Her new rickety home is shared with her child, her grandmother and a few scattered bags containing her belongings. She hopes better times await her child. She is keen to keep her daughter healthy and despite the challenges she faces – she is determined to send her to school because “an education will help bring her a better future,” she adds.

Safe water and sanitation services for South Sudanese mothers and children

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Fetching safe drinking water in Tirgol town
South Sudanese asylum seekers fetching safe drinking water in Tergol town, Gambella region of Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

TERGOL, AKOBO WOREDA (GAMBELLA REGION), 15 March, 2014- As the searing heat of the afternoon sun begins to ease, a group of women carrying jerry cans and plastic buckets start to descend into a small compound where they have access to clean water from two water points. The small compound is one of two sites where UNICEF has installed two emergency water treatment facilities (EMWAT kits) through its implementing partner, ZOA International, in Tergol town, in the Akobo district of the Gambella region, western Ethiopia.

Tergol is a small town by the Akobo River that marks the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan. Tergol has been under the spotlight since mid-December last year after thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers crossed over into the town after being displaced by conflict in Africa’s youngest nation.

According to UNHCR, close to 66,000 asylum seekers crossed into Ethiopia by the beginning of March 2014. Akobo has received 34 per cent of this number, which is the second largest arrival rate after Pagak where 33,000 South Sudanese civilians displaced by conflict have entered. These asylum seekers are in a critical situation and need immediate humanitarian assistance including the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation services.

In Tergol, the host community has entirely depended on the Akobo River for its water needs as there has never been a facility to provide safe drinking water. However, this situation has been recently improved. With UNICEF’s support, EMWAT kits have been built and are now supplying clean drinking water to the Tergol community as well as to the thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers. Water from the nearby river is purified and supplied by the first reservoir built by the emergency kit, the purified water is then transferred into a second reservoir where it is chemically treated before it is reticulated to the water access points. Each EMWAT kit has a capacity for providing 20,000 litres of clean water and the kits can be re-filled every two hours depending on the rate of demand.

Safe water for mothers and children

Nyathak Minyjang (with black dress), one of South Sudanese asylum seekers, comes to the water point at least three times a day.
Nyathak Minyjang (with black dress) comes to the water point at least three times a day. She fetches water for cooking, bathing and drinking. The emergency water treatment facility which is built with the support of UNICEF provide clean drinking water to South Sudanese asylum seekers and the host community in Tergol ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwork.

While the women gather around the water points, they talk to each other as clean water fills their buckets and jerry cans. The women then help one another to balance the vessels on top of their heads.

When it is Nyathak Minyjang’s turn, a 25-year-old mother of four, she places her plastic bucket under the tap and holds the hose down to pour in the clean water. Prior to the response, Nyathak had lived on the South Sudan side of Akobo before coming to Tergol with her four children. Her only previous access to water was a river. She never imagined that she would have access to clean drinking water from a tap. “We used to drink water from a river. My children would regularly get sick and I would get sick too”, she says. “The quality of the water here is very nice.” Nyathak comes to the water point at least three times a day.  She fetches water for cooking, bathing and drinking. Most importantly, she applies the lessons she learnt about personal hygiene from community hygiene promoters. She is also keen to keep her children clean.

Nyarout Gazwech, a 21-year-old mother of two boys, is also very happy about the supply of clean water. She came from the South Sudan city of Malakal a month and a half ago, leaving her two brothers and her mother behind when the conflict intensified.  During her long trek to Tergol, she and her children had no option but to drink unsafe water. “My children were having diarrhoea after drinking the river water.  Here we have clean water and my boys will not get diarrhoea again,” she says.

Comprehensive WASH approach

UNICEF in partnership with UNHCR, the Government Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), the Gambella Region Water Bureau, and its implementing partner ZOA supports the provision of safe water to the host community and asylum seekers in Tergol. UNICEF’s response has followed its Water Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) strategy by increasing equitable and sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation services, as well as promoting improved hygiene in Tergol.

“We are providing clean water to the asylum seekers and to the host community. Furthermore, we teach them about safe hygiene practices such as the importance of hand washing and using latrines,” says Nigussie Yisma of ZOA who is coordinating the WASH interventions in Tergol.

Apart from Tergol, UNICEF also supports WASH interventions at the entry point in Pagag and in the Lietchor refugee camp. One EMWAT kit has been installed at the Pagag entry point and is providing clean drinking water to the asylum seekers and the host community.  Similarly, five shallow water wells have been drilled in the Lietchor refugee camp to increase access to a sustainable source of clean water for the refugees.  Moreover, water purification chemicals and emergency sanitation facilities are being distributed while hygiene promoters continue teaching the community and asylum seekers about safe personal and environmental hygiene practices.

Local capacity building

A women in Tergol town, Akobo Woreda, carries water to her home.
South Sudanese asylum seeker in Tergol town, Akobo Woreda, carries water back from a water point built with the support of UNICEF ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

When the emergency response was launched in January 2014, community hygiene promoters were trained and they taught the community and asylum seekers about the benefits of safe hygiene practices. Furthermore, 40 communal latrines have been built in close proximity to the host community as well as where asylum seekers are staying.

“We have been taught about personal hygiene and the importance of hand washing before cooking and after using the toilet,” says Nyathak “They [hygiene promoters] also told us this can prevent our children from getting diarrhoea.”

In order to keep the facilities running smoothly, local water technicians have been trained on the management and maintenance of the water facilities to safeguard smooth operation. The water technicians are responsible for regularly monitoring the water levels and the quality of the drinking water.

Water purification chemicals and accessories are also readily available to the community.

Clean and safe drinking water is essential for life and is also bringing renewed hope for people like Nyathak and Nyarout after being displaced by the conflict in South Sudan.

UNICEF calls for US$2.2 billion to help 59 million children in emergencies, including Ethiopia

Largest emergency appeal on record, almost 40 per cent for Syria and region

Somali children concentrate on their learning at a school supported by UNICEF and operated by Save the Children in Kobe refugee camp in Ethiopia. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose

GENEVA/ADDIS ABABA, 21 February 2014 – UNICEF appealed today for almost US$2.2 billion to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance in 2014 to 85 million people, including 59 million children, who face conflict, natural disasters and other complex emergencies in 50 countries.

“I have just returned from South Sudan, the latest large-scale conflict to disrupt the lives of millions of innocent children. Over 400,000 children and their families have been displaced by the conflict, and over 3.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The rainy season is coming and we need to preposition supplies and reinforce essential services, for which we need urgent funding to prevent a catastrophe,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes.

“The children of South Sudan join millions of others affected by conflict in the Central African Republic and Syria. But while today’s headlines focus on these complex, under-funded crises, many other desperate situations also require immediate funding and urgent humanitarian assistance. These include Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen, and other countries reflected in UNICEF’s appeal,” Chaiban said.

UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2014 appeal highlights the daily challenges faced by children in humanitarian crises, the support required to help them survive and thrive, and the results that are possible even in the most difficult circumstances.

For Syria and the sub-region, UNICEF is appealing for US$835 million to deliver life-saving assistance including immunization, water and sanitation, education, and protection; and to support the social cohesion and peace-building skills needed to build a more sustainable future.

“Children are always the most vulnerable group in emergencies, facing a high risk of violence, exploitation, disease and neglect,” Chaiban said. “But when support is made available, we can change the lives of children for the better. With its partners, UNICEF is working to address a diverse range of humanitarian situations including malnutrition in the Sahel; lack of safe drinking water and adequate sanitation in Yemen; cholera in Haiti; increased attacks on children in Afghanistan; and drought in Angola.”

In Ethiopia, to support children affected by humanitarian crisis and accelerate efforts to break the vicious cycle of drought, hunger and poverty, UNICEF is appealing for US$31,126,000 million by working closely with Government and partners. The fund is allotted to treat 238,700 children aged 6 to 59 months affected by severe acute malnutrition, provide water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene for 1,200,000 people and offer formal and informal education to 90,000 children. This year’s appeal will build on the past gains made towards strengthening the resilience of communities in Ethiopia and save the lives of children. The 40 per cent decrease in requirements from 2013 reflects a projected improvement in the food security and nutritional situation in 2014.

See the press release here. 

Commiting to Children is Commiting to The Future – Angélique Kidjo

While visiting UNICEF Ethiopia in November, Angélique Kidjo UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador,  asked the public to join her and UNICEF and commit to ensure that children have adequate food, shelter and clean water; every boy and girl has access to education and primary health care and  protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

She said: Committing to children, is committing to the Future!