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.

Drought Emergency Highlights Entire Families Not Receiving Primary Education

By Rebecca Beauregard

DANOT, SOMALI, 15 February 2017 – “A woman never tells her age,” says Sadeh Abdihayii with a smile, affirming that this taboo is common around the world. She then admits to be 40 years old. We continue, asking her how many of her children are in school. With eight children ranging from nine months to 20 years old, none of them, including Sadeh, have been to school. Ever.

Sadeh had hoped one of them could go to school, but circumstances did not allow. “It seems sensible to learn, but we have not been able to,” says Sadeh.

40-year-old Sadeh Abdihayii laughs when asked about her age
Sadeh Abdihayii, 40-years-old, laughs about her age with her eight children gathered around her. Neither Sadeh nor her children have ever been to school. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Living through drought

Sometimes Sadeh’s family lives in the vicinity of an organized village or town, such as now just outside Qorile kebele (sub-district), yet often they can be far away from any organized services including healthcare and schools. This is the life of a pastoralist family.

Sadeh’s family is one of the over 800 families that have temporarily settled in Danot woreda (district), in the eastern horned-tip part of Ethiopia. The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has set up these temporary sites to provide life-saving medical and nutrition services, water and food during this drought period for one of the most vulnerable communities in the country, livestock-raising pastoralists.

Drought has hit these lowland areas across the Horn of Africa many times over the years, but Sadeh has never experienced one that devastated her livestock to this extent. Due to the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a weather phenomenon, the December rains failed, making it 12 months since many villages in the area have experienced rain.

It is understandable why school has not been possible for many of these children, whether considering the current food and water shortages, or the nomadic patterns of their  life. The regular school system does not fit into this lifestyle and it is a reality that is not often at the forefront of parents’ worries. With little or no safety net, pastoralist mothers and fathers are concerned with water, food and grazing land.

The GoE however, in partnership with UNICEF, has developed alternative methods to reach children, even those in remote areas.

Adapting education to the pastoralist context

With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has developed a pastoralist education strategy which is implemented across Somali and Afar, as well as some parts of Oromia and Southern Nations and Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP), regions where pastoralists are prominent.

The core intervention is a school equivalence programme, adapted for children ages 7 to 14, where students learn the equivalent of the first four grades of primary school before transitioning into formal schools. This Alternative Basic Education (ABE), is based on the national education system but has altered facets wherever necessary to make it feasible for the pastoralist context. Such alterations include low-cost construction of schools as well as flexible locations and schedules to accommodate children who herd their families’ animals or move in certain seasons.

While ABE is the most commonly implemented strategy for inclusion of pastoralist children, reaching 276,777 students over a period of six years, the GoE encourages families to enrol their children in formal schools whenever possible. UNICEF supports this initiative by identifying and addressing barriers to children joining school. Such interventions range from rehabiliting WASH facilities at schools to ensure proper toilets and water is available, to constructing temporary learning spaces or formal schooling in addition to providing exercise books for families who cannot afford the expense. Additionally, the GoE implements a school feeding programme to encourage school attendance, currently in 252 schools across Somali region.

More than ever, these crucial interventions are  needed now , particularly as hundreds of ABE schools across Somali region are currently closed due to drought conditions.

‘Maybe somehow one day’

Halimo Bandais, 20-year-old mother of a toddler is the eldest daughter of Sadeh.
Halimo Bandais, 20-year-old mother of a toddler, is the eldest daughter of Sadeh. She has never been to school. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Tesfaye

Families gathered near Qorile, such as Sadeh’s, are encouraged  to enrol their children in the Qorile primary school, which is within walking distance, even if it may only be for short term. While the drought situation is dire, there is now an opportunity for thousands of children to attend school while their families are receiving temporary assistance to keep their livelihoods afloat.

Sadeh’s eldest child, Halimo Bandais, comments, “I thought about school sometimes. But I have always been looking after the animals and we are moving here and there. How could I? But some of us will, perhaps my child.” Perhaps he will attend school one day. For now, hundreds of school-age children such as the girls neighbouring Sadeh’s tent, Feysa and Isthel, may be able to finally start their education while in the temporary settlement sites with adequate funding.

UNICEF is committed to the right of every child to receive an education. With contributions from international donors, the GoE, along with UNICEF and other education partners can expand programmes such as ABE or temporary learning spaces to ensure children such as those temporarily settled in Qorile, have an opportunity to access education.

In 10 countries with highest out-of-school rates, 40 per cent of children are not accessing basic education

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 1 September 2016 –In the top 10 countries with the highest rates of children missing out on primary education, nearly 2 in every 5 children – 18 million – are out of school, UNICEF said today.

Liberia is home to the highest proportion of out-of-school children with nearly two-thirds of primary-aged children not accessing school. The second highest is South Sudan, where 59 per cent of children are missing out on their right to a primary education and 1 in 3 schools is closed due to conflict. 

Afghanistan (46 per cent), Sudan (45 per cent), Niger (38 per cent) and Nigeria (34 per cent) also feature in the top 10 countries with the highest primary out-of-school rates, painting a clear picture of how humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises are forcing children out of school. 

The UNICEF data analysis, which comes as millions of children return to school this month, highlights the extent of an education crisis affecting countries already blighted by conflict, prolonged periods of drought, flash floods, earthquakes and high rates of extreme poverty.

UNICEF fears that without education, a generation of children living in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters and extreme poverty will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families.

Education continues to be one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals. In 2015, humanitarian agencies received only 31 per cent of their education funding needs, down from 66 per cent a decade ago. Despite a 126 per cent increase in education requirements since 2005, funding increased by just 4 per cent. Moreover, education systems equipped to cope with protracted crises cannot be built on the foundations of short-term – and unpredictable – appeals.

During the World Humanitarian Summit, held in May 2016, a new global funding platform, Education Cannot Wait, was launched to bridge the gap between humanitarian interventions during crises and long-term development afterwards, through predictable funding.

Though not one of the top 10 countries with the highest rates of out-of-school children, Syria is home to 2.1 million school-age children (5-17) who are not in school. An additional 600,000 Syrian children living as refugees in the surrounding region are also out of school. Recent, reliable data from countries including Somalia and Libya are not available either from administrative or survey sources partly due to the continuing conflicts. 

“For countries affected by conflict, school equips children with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their communities once the crisis is over, and in the short-term it provides them with the stability and structure required to cope with trauma. Schools can also protect children from the trauma and physical dangers around them. When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups,” said UNICEF Chief of Education Jo Bourne.

kalkidan , a 4th grade student at the Arara Kidanemeherete Primary school attending her class.Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in the past two decades towards universal primary education. Primary school enrolment is up, and mobilization efforts are enrolling school‑age populations across all regions. However, the number of out-of-school children remains high, and only just over half of all students who enter grade one complete a full primary education cycle. The Government of Ethiopia has continued its strong commitment to ensuring accessible, quality schooling for all as captured in its Education Sector Development Plan 2015–2020.

Drawing on Education Management Information System (EMIS) data for 2014/15, over 2.6 million children are estimated to be out of school. These out of school children represent “the most difficult to reach” population comprising of the last 10 per cent of the eligible school population. 

In 2012, UNICEF commissioned a study on the Situation of Out-of-school Children in Ethiopia which led to a large media based ‘Go-to-school Campaign’ to reach to out-of-school children and accelerate their enrolment. In 2014 alone, the national campaign brought back 47,511 out of school children in the four developing regional states of Afar, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella.

UNICEF, through its programme of cooperation with the Government of Ethiopia, has supported the Ministry of Education in the establishment of over 1,600 Alternative Basic Education Centres (ABEC) which have enrolled 276,777 students in marginalized localities. In conjunction with other Development Partners, a national Strategy on Education for Pastoralist Communities has recently been revised and provides a strong basis by which children in remote areas will be able to better access relevant educational services.

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.

In drought-stricken regions, children search for water and a lifeline for their hopes

In drought-stricken regions of SNNPR, children travel for hours to collect water for household needs.
In drought-stricken regions of SNNPR, children travel for hours to collect water for household needs ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

HALABA SPECIAL WOREDA & MAREKO WOREDA, SNNPR, 22 March 2016 – In the northern part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia, bright yellow jerry cans are everywhere: on main roads and dirt roads, carried by hand or piled high on donkey carts being led on long journeys. Whatever the method, the goal is the same: water.

In SNNPR, 73 out of the total 136 rural woredas (districts) are grappling with water scarcity. Out of those, 45 are severely affected. In many of these woredas, water scarcity is an old problem, made much, much worse by the ongoing drought, which is the worst this country has experienced in decades. The result of a double blow of climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, the drought has led to food shortages and threats to livelihoods and survival. 

When there is no water, education takes a backseat

Wogbela, 15, travels to a neighbouring area for water, returning home the next day
Wogbela, 15, travels to a neighbouring area for water, returning home the next day. “I am late to school every day,” he says ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Lack of water affects everything: food, health, education and children’s futures. In Washe Faka Primary School, located in Washe Faka Kebele (sub-district), Mareko Woreda of SNNPR, approximately 20 students have left school in search of work to support families whose livelihoods have been turned upside down by the drought. The children who remain in school are struggling.

“Students are coming to school with empty stomachs and leaving early because they can’t focus,” says Selfa Doloko, the school principal.

Fifth-grader Wogbela, 15, is struggling too. Every day after school, he travels hours to a water point in a neighbouring area. Because of the distance from his home, he has to stay overnight at a relative’s house. There are closer water points, but the long lines often mean hours of waiting.

“I used to go every other day, but the drought has dried up the ponds here, so I have to get water for the livestock in addition to water for the family,” he says.

In the morning, Wogbela travels home with his supply of water. He is tired by the time he gets home, but has to rush to school. “I am late to school every day,” he says, worried. Education is important to him, but it takes a backseat when there is no water.

Relief in sight

HALABA WOREDA, SNNPR – 24 JANUARY 2016
Munira, 13, is a student at Asore Primary School, located 30 metres away from a new UNICEF-supported water point. “It is much easier now. We can drink and wash easily,” she says. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

This is the story of so many children here, but thankfully for some, there is finally relief in sight.

For the students of Asore Primary School in Halaba Woreda, a new UNICEF-supported water point approximately 30 metres away means a new shot at learning. Students like Munira, 13, an eighth-grader at the school, can finally breathe a sigh of relief. “I used to travel two to three hours a day to fetch water. The wait at the water point was even longer. Sometimes the taps did not work and I would have to spend the whole day there and go home the next day. It was so tiring and a waste of time,” she says, glad that clean water is now just a short walk away.

Abdusamad, 16, another eighth-grader at the school, adds, “Some students had to drop out of school because they had to spend so much time collecting water. I’m more confident now that I can finish my studies and I want to help bring the students who dropped out back to school.”

As part of the drought emergency response, UNICEF, as the WASH cluster lead, is supporting the Government of Ethiopia and other partners in the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of new water supply systems, provision of water purification and treatment chemicals, scaling up of water trucking activities, and provision of  sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools. UNICEF is also exploring innovative ways to use satellites to detect deep groundwater for large scale, multiple-village water supply systems.

With 5.8 million people around the country in need of access to safe drinking water, UNICEF and partners are racing against the clock to provide urgent help.

For children like Wogbela, it cannot come soon enough. “I hope things change soon,” says Wogbela, “so that I can get back to learning.”

Strengthening lives through strengthened partnerships in Gambella.

Charlene Thompson

Refugee children from South Sudan learn at a makeshift school at Kule Camp in Gambella region of Ethiopia
Refugee children from South Sudan learn at a makeshift school at Kule Camp in Gambella region of Ethiopia 12 August 2014. USF Board members visits Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

Gambella, Ethiopia – 14 November, 2014: Visitors to the grade one classes in the Kule Refugee Camp are often welcomed with a joyful song by the children in their native Nuer language. The song is about their right to an education and the students enthusiastically sing and clap along. In one of these classrooms there is one voice that rises over all of the other voices and immediately draws attention in its direction. It’s the voice of 13 year old Nyabol Lual. A slim, shy adolescent girl with a bright smile.

Holding a pencil and a ruler in her hands, Nyabol explains that she started school in the Kule Refugee Camp in July, one month after she arrived in Gambella, Ethiopia with her mother and her four siblings. After her father was killed in the conflict in South Sudan, her mother led the family on foot from the Upper Nile Region in South Sudan to Ethiopia. Nyabol was enrolled in school in South Sudan but her classes were interrupted by the fighting and she had to stop her education.

Nyabol Lual, 13 – a grade one student in the Kule Refugee Camp. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Thompson

“I like school very much and English is my favourite subject,” she says. Nyabol is one of 24,991 refugee children (10,996 girls; 13,995 boys) now enrolled in school in grades 1-4. A recent ‘Back to School’ campaign in September for the academic year 2014-2015 registered over 18,000 students in Kule and Tierkidi refugee camps. The opening of schools and the campaign to register children in the camps is the result of strong partnerships between Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), UNHCR, UNICEF and NGOs such as Plan International, Save the Children International and World Vision. “In addition to the life-saving services provided in the camps such as nutrition and clean water, it is important that we also give children the opportunity to go school,” says Mr. Daniel Ayele Bezabih, Head of Programme Implementation and Coordination, ARRA. “The partnership between ARRA, UNHCR, UNICEF and other NGOs has ensured that children in the camps can access education and continue to learn,” he adds.

To ensure children could go to school, ARRA; UNHCR and partners such as UNICEF had to allocate land in the camps for the schools; construct classrooms; identify and train teachers from the refugee community; develop a curriculum; and provide learning materials for teachers and students. Once all of this was in place, a door to door campaign was conducted to register children in school. “In an environment such as this where so many basic requirements need to be met and services provided to so many people so quickly; strong partnerships are key to the overall success,” explains Mr. Shadrack Omol, Chief of Field Operations, UNICEF Ethiopia. “The partnership between UNICEF, ARRA and UNHCR in education highlights such strength” he adds. UNICEF leads the cluster coordination for education in Gambella.

Mr. Daniel also acknowledges the importance of effective partnerships which he says was demonstrated when the Leitchuor and Nip Nip refugee camps and the Matar border entry point were flooded from June to October, displacing thousands of refugees. When the rainy season arrived and flooded the camps, thousands of refugees had to be accommodated within host communities. The regional government in Gambella opened its health facilities to the refugees and ARRA, UNHCR, UNICEF and other partners came together to ensure refugees and the host communities were able to access clean water, proper sanitation, health, nutrition, education and protection services.

Since the conflict started in South Sudan in December 2013, more than 190,900 refugees have crossed into Gambella, Ethiopia. Approximately 90 percent of the refugees are women and children. The Ethiopian Government maintains an ‘open-door’ policy towards refugees in keeping with international commitments. This has required robust coordination and effective and efficient partnerships to meet the needs not only of the refugees but also the host communities in Gambella which has also been greatly affected by the very rapid increase in population size. “The Government’s policy is when a refugee camp is established, the host community must also benefit from the services provided,” says Mr. Daniel.

Students in class in the Tierkidi Refugee Camp.
Students in class in the Tierkidi Refugee Camp. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Thompson

In Akula, refugees are settled together with the host community. Humanitarian partners and regional government have scaled up the provision of services to be used by the host community and refugees.   Refugee children attend school with children from the host community. UNICEF is support the humanitarian partners to build a new school in Akula and will provide teaching and learning material for all the children that will be attending the school. “The host communities are incorporated into the planning and implementation of our activities in response to the refugee situation in Gambella and it’s through good working relations with all partners that this is being done,” explains Mr. Daniel.

Back at school in the Kule Refugee Camp, Nyabol says she loves to come to school because she is learning many subjects. She dreams of becoming a doctor in the future so she can help other refugees like herself. For Mr. Daniel, Nyabol’s story represents the overall goal of ARRA, UNHCR and its partners. “Supporting refugees so they can not only sustain their lives but also thrive is success for ARRA,” he says.

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.”

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