Children need peace for education, and education for peace

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyamat Oactoct from Pagak village in Gambella.
“We need peace. If there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat. Her five year old younger sister and brother are abducted to a neighbouring South Sudan by the Murle tribe. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia,  25 May 2016 – On April 15, hundreds of heavily armed men stormed through Nyamat Oactot’s village of Pagak in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, stealing cattle, shooting people and kidnapping children.

The 16-year-old girl’s younger brother and sister were taken by raiders believed to be from the Murle tribe from neighbouring South Sudan, and have yet to be recovered. In the aftermath, parents across this part of Gambella have kept their children out of school in fear of further attacks.

“We need peace, if there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat said.

Ruey Tut Rue,15, lost his mother and brother and wishes he could bury himself in his studies to keep from thinking about them, but instead he has been frustrated by three weeks of school closure.

“I feel upset and my mind is not focused,” he said. “Reading complicated subjects like biology and chemistry is now helping me to divert my attention from thinking about my mother.”

The attacks have also destroyed school materials making reopening the schools even harder, said Paul Puok Tang, the head of the Lare Woreda (district) education office.

“The dropout rates have also increased,” he said. “Through UNICEF and government  support, we are now trying to rehabilitate the schools and purchase school supplies for the communities that are affected.”

Gambella Region is one of the states in Ethiopia that is part of UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), along with Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali regions.

These four regions suffer from neglect and frequent exposure to man-made and natural disasters such as drought and floods and because of their close proximity to conflict zones. Since 2014, annual disaster and risk response plans have been put in place to help them cope with major disasters.

Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student, Pagak village in Gambella.
Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student did not go to school for three weeks due to the recent abduction of large numbers of children in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia by Murle pastoralists from South Sudan ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

UNICEF has enlisted the support of the African Centre for Disaster Risk Management to come up with disaster and risk response plans at 31 schools in Gambella and 13 schools in Benishangul-Gumuz to develop the capacity of schools and communities to respond to disasters.

In the case of an attack like the recent cattle raid, villagers are taught to know when the raids come and what to do with their children during that period, said Omod Abela, Process Owner of Planning and Resource Mobilisation in Gog Woreda, Punido Kebele (sub-district),.

“We know that it is a seasonal occurrence – they come between March and May following their cattle and we teach communities not to send their children to herd cattle during this season, but to keep them at home and study,” he said. “Also, we teach parents that children should not play in isolation but surrounded by adult members of the community.”

PBEA seeks to strengthen resilience, social cohesion and peacebuilding in the four regions through strengthened policies and practices in education.

In Gambella, over 1,200 educational officials have been trained to promote peace and social cohesion within the region through disaster planning, peacebuilding, combatting school-related gender-based violence and promote child-friendly schooling.

“Parents and children need to understand the value of education,” explained Tok Bel from Lare Woreda Education Office. “Out of school children are more prone to be involved in conflict situations. Even during the recent Murle attack, most lives that were saved were those of children who were attending classes when the incident happened. Education saves lives.”

Ethiopia started the implementation of the PBEA in October 2012 with the Federal Ministry of Education and the four regional education bureaus.

The programme, which ends in 2016, is integrated across UNICEF’s US$60 million Learning and Development Programme and is a global initiative funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

“Where there is peace, education will go well. Without knowledge and education, there are no doctors and without doctors, many people will die,” said Gatiat Wal Rik, 15, a student from Bulimkum Primary School.

The power of education for building peace in Africa

infographicADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI/DAKAR, 1st JUNE 2016 – Ensuring equitable access to education is key in addressing the root causes of conflict and instability in Africa, stakeholders said today ahead of the Pan-African Symposium on Education, Resilience and Social Cohesion, at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa.

The three-day event shares evidence and best practices from UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), and the Inter-Country Quality Node (ICQN) on Peace Education, established by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). In doing so, the Symposium will seek to assess how inclusive, equitable and innovative education policy and programmes can contribute to sustainable peace and development across the continent. Currently, three out of 10 children in Africa are living in conflict-affected settings and exposed to numerous risks.  

“The capacity of education to support children develop and thrive is well documented, however we now also know that education can prevent and reduce the impacts of conflict,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala. “If the right policies and interventions are in place, together with financial investment, education can be a driving force in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 36 out of 45 countries are at medium or high risk of experiencing manmade disasters, the highest rate globally. Moreover, at least 327 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa live in fragile contexts and the majority of the estimated 29 million primary school aged children who are out of school are primarily found in fragile settings and are particularly at risk or threatened by conflict.

“We need to reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture the continent’s core values,” said Dr Martial de Paul Ikounga, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology. “We will then promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels.”

The African Union Commission, under the Agenda 2063 “The Africa We Want”, envisions that by 2020 all guns will be silent and a culture of peace and tolerance would be nurtured in Africa´s children and youth through peace.”      

Oley Dibba-Wadda, the Executive Secretary of ADEA, sees education as “a key tool against all kinds of violence” and strongly appeals to African governments to “endorse and develop integrated, peaceful, inclusive approaches and strategies that support the implementation of a comprehensive program on non-violence, tolerance and peace, especially for the young generation.” 

The high-level event in Addis Ababa, which is being attended by Ministers of Education from 16 African countries, including conflict-torn states, will close with concrete recommendations on how to strengthen education sector policy and programmes in Africa to address the risks faced by children and to support sustainable peace and development across Africa. The symposium will also provide evidence to inform both donor and public funding strategies and investment priorities.

“Education can play both a protective and preventative role. In doing this, education’s power is transformative and serves as a peace dividend, reducing inequities and grievances between groups and strengthening social cohesion” said the Ethiopian Minister of Education, Ato Shiferaw Shigute.

The symposium is co-organized by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education, UNICEF, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and the Inter-Country Quality Node (ICQN) on Peace Education.