Against all Odds, South Sudanese Refugees find a way to access education

By Amanda Westfall

On 19 December, 2017, Nyawal John, a South Sudanese 17-year-old girl says that her goal in life is to be educated. After escaping conflict in her village in South Sudan, she is doing whatever it takes to access education in Ethiopia.

Their villages are ravaged as they flee conflict and leave family, livelihoods and education behind. They travel for months, sometimes without food, water, or shelter, to arrive in a new country that offers the basic services required for survival. But when the South Sudanese people spend year after year waiting for the conflict in their country to subside, the time keeps ticking on their education.

Nyawal John, 17, who arrived in Tsore Refugee camp in Benishangul-Gumuz, Ethiopia two years ago, has gone almost three years without formal education. As a young teen, she had to leave almost everything behind in South Sudan – even her parents, who she hasn’t heard from since fleeing, not knowing if they are alive today or not.

Tsore Refugee Settlement offers pre-primary and primary school, but unfortunately, there is currently no secondary school available for Nyawal who says that she should be attending 9th grade right now.

But this did not stop Nyawal in her ambitions for education. She first started working as a translator at the camp health centre. However, she felt detached from education so decided to be a teacher in the camp’s pre-primary school, which is where she is currently working.

At the school, she teaches a total of 85 four-year-old children each day where she is exposed to new UNICEF-supported teaching and learning materials and capacity building programmes. She is able to use the various skills and materials to improve her teaching and also help her gain new knowledge for her own educational growth.

The main thing Nyawal wants right now is to learn. “I need to get knowledge. In the future what I want is to finish my education … If there is a place in my country for this I will be there. But iff it is here, I will be here.”

Nyawal dreams of being a computer scientist one day. When she was a young teenager in South Sudan, her father bought her a computer from Rwanda, which she cherished and managed to carry with her as she fled to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because of financial needs she had to sell it once she arrived. Still, she has managed to continue practising by going to Tsore’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs office weekly to use their computers.

Education for Refugee and Host Community Children Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia
Education for Refugee and Host Community Children in Tsore Zone pre school Benishangu-Gumuz, Ethiopia Tsore Zone A Pre School, Assosa. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

From site to site in the camp there is an ardent yearn for education. Kemal Olika, an Ethiopian teacher in the refugee primary school in the camp says it best, “Without any training and just by their confidence, they [refugee teachers] still teach and strive for education. I appreciate them. Even the [refugee] students’ respect is very high. South Sudanese respect the teachers. They listen. They really want to learn.”

At the settlement, UNICEF supports the refugee children’s aspirations for education. Through an integration programme with the host-Ethiopian communities, UNICEF supports teacher training programmes and extra-curricular activities including; materials and equipment for sport, play and learning – so that refugees can benefit from their host country’s education system. In addition, UNICEF supports the construction of new classrooms to ease the congestion in schools and advocates for construction of secondary schools for older students, like Nyawal.

When forced away from everything she knows – her home, parents, schooling, and cherished computer – against all the odds, Nyawal continues to strive for education.

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.

Return, recovery and reunification of the abducted children in Gambella

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyatayin Both, 25, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella Region.
25-year-old Nyatayin with her one year old daughter Nyakoch Gatdet at a temporary shelter for returned children in Gambella. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, 25 May 2016 – When the attack on the village came, 25-year-old Nyatayin Both held tightly to two of her children, but the raiders still managed to kidnap the two others amidst the panic and commotion.

“I wish I’d had four hands to hold them and save all of my four children,” she recalled, describing the horrific day in mid-April in Ethiopia’s Gambella region when she lost her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

In a raid of unprecedented scale, some 200 people were killed and 146 children were taken by raiders from neighboring South Sudan, widely described as Murle tribesmen. The Ethiopian military and the local Gambella Government have been negotiating for their slow release ever since.

For Nyatayin, it meant a miracle to see the return of her 9-year-old daughter Nyamuoch.

“At first it was just rumors that some of the children had returned, but later we were told by local officials to come and identify our children,” she said. “I was hoping to see mine, when I spotted my daughter among the many children standing in a circle, I was thrilled and praised the Lord and thanked the government for taking action.”

It was a joy tempered by the fact that her other son was still out there and of course the death of so many relatives that day, including her husband. So far 91 children have been recovered.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Ethiopia and partners on a response plan which includes reintegration, psychological support, basic health care and nutrition services as well as providing tents and clothing for each child.

Currently, the children are being cared for at a two-storey guest house of the Gambella Regional Government, where Sarah Nyauony Deng is supervising their care.

“When they arrive here, most of them were so silent and isolated themselves, but after some time, they start to socialize with others, play together and become cheerful,” she said. “Most of them also have injuries on their legs from the long walks.”

Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, 1st grade student, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella region.
Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, was one of the 146 children who were abducted from their communities in the Gambella Region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

Flashbacks from the forest
Nyamuoch recalls that terrible day she was taken from her village that began at dawn with the sound of shots.

“I was still asleep and suddenly I heard gunfire and ran out of the house. I was filled with fear and anxiety,” she said. “I started running along with many other children and adults but they caught most of us and took us to a forest. Where I was, most of the abducted children were strangers except a boy I recognized from my village.”

Nyamuoch said they were constantly talking to them but none of the children understood a word. “I think they were trying to teach us their language,” she said. “I am so happy to be back to my family. My mother and I cried for a long time with happiness and now she is with me again, I am not scared anymore.”

Reintegration

Working with the president’s office and the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, UNICEF has drawn upon a detailed action plan for child protection, including identification, documentation, psycho-social first aid and family assessments to facilitate appropriate rehabilitation services during reunification of the children.

Children in Gambella at the Presidential Guest House
Children in Gambella Presidential Guest House after their recovery from abduction ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tesfaye

“Currently, we are doing a needs assessment to mobilize resources for the abducted children and their families. Some of the children have lost one or both parents, some their cattle and some their huts as it was burned by the Murle,” said Ocher Ocher Obang of the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs in Gambella.

In addition, many in the affected communities are afraid to return to their remote villages for fear of renewed attacks by the Murle.

With the return of the rains, the displaced families need land to till, shelter to live in, as well as additional clothing and health care.

As the Ethiopian and South Sudanese governments strengthen their efforts to recover the remaining abducted children, UNICEF calls for the children’s swift and unconditional return to their families.

“I thought they would lock us in the forest forever,” said Nyamuoch. “When I grow up, I only want to do good things for humanity by becoming a teacher or a doctor – I will never forget this incident.”

 

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.

ECHO’s support realises a safe space for South Sudan refugee children to be children

By Charlene Thompson

Children in one of the child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp
Children in one of the child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Thompson

Gambella, Ethiopia 31 October, 2014 – There’s an exciting game of volleyball being played and both the participants and spectators are intently focused on the next move. A young boy serves and the ball hits the net; he doesn’t quite get it over but the children are laughing.

It’s a scene that could have taken place on any playground, with any group of children but this game is being played in the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia and all of the children here fled the war in South Sudan. This volleyball game is being played in one of the child friendly spaces (CFS) developed by UNICEF and Plan International with the financial support of ECHO and in partnership with Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who manage the camp.

“This child friendly space is providing a safe area for children in this camp where they can play and learn and be themselves,” said Chuol Yar, a 27 year old refugee who is one of the camp’s community child protection workers. “This is a place where they can come and feel protected and love themselves. If they cannot do this here, then we are not doing things well,” he added.

According to UNICEF, child friendly spaces are designed to support the resilience and well‐being of children and young people through community organised, structured activities conducted in a safe, child friendly, and stimulating environment. Through the partnership between UNICEF and Plan International, 31 community child protection workers (14 female and 17 male) were trained in June and are currently providing support to children in two permanent and three temporary child friendly spaces in the Kule Camp.

They received training in principles of child friendly spaces, management of child friendly spaces, developing activities for children and monitoring and response to the needs of children.

The child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp cater to children from 3-18 years of age and they provide play areas for football, volleyball, jump rope and other outdoor activities. In addition, there are traditional storytelling sessions, dramas that are performed by the children, singing, reading materials and spaces where adolescents can engage in peer discussions.

South Sudan refugee children play in child friendly centre in Gambella Ethiopia
South Sudan refugee children play in child friendly centre in Gambella Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

The community child protection workers also visit homes in the Kule Camp to encourage parents to send their children to the child friendly spaces.

“I let the parents know all of the activities that we have in the child friendly spaces and tell them that it is a protected space where the children can play safely,” said David Riang, another community child protection worker at the refugee camp. “The parents usually agree and send the children to the child friendly spaces,” he said as his colleague Chuol quickly added “I tell them without play children cannot learn. Play is important for a child’s mental development.”

In addition to the Kule Camp, UNICEF, with the support of ECHO, is supporting child friendly spaces at the Tierkidi Camp and at the Akobo border entry point. “The children in these camps have already experienced very difficult and tragic circumstances in their short lives. The aim of these child friendly spaces is to provide a safe space where a child can come and be a child,” said Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella.

For many of the community child protection workers this experience has also provided them with the opportunity to develop skills and actively participate in supporting their community. Many are from the same regions in South Sudan and having fled war also share similar experiences with the children. They communicate with the children in their local language and tell traditional stories and social teachings of their clan.

“My dream if God is willing is to become a medical doctor and support my community,” Chuol said and it is a sentiment expressed by other community child protection workers as well. “My dream is for our children to have a better future and hopefully return home one day to a peaceful South Sudan,” noted Bigoa Kuong, a 24 year old social worker who then quickly added with a broad smile, “and also a basketball court for the children to play.”

Foster care and reunification efforts for separated children in Gambella refugee camps

by Monica Martinez and Nadine Tatge

Nyadiet and four foster children together with neighbors and friends in Kule refugee camp Gambella
Nyadiet and four foster children together with neighbors and friends in Kule refugee camp Gambella, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Martinez

Gambella, Ethiopia, 22 April 2015 – Nyadiet is a 50 year old South Sudanese woman who came to Kule refugee camp two years ago when her life was at risk due to the fighting in her country.

She came on her own and the whereabouts of the rest of her family are unknown. Because Nyadiet is on her own, she volunteered to become part of the foster family scheme in Kule camp, implemented by Plan International with support from UNICEF.

For five months now, Nyadiet has been fostering four siblings that also came from South Sudan. The oldest of the four siblings is a 13 year old girl called Nygua who found the bravery to bring her three younger brothers (8, 7 and 5 years old) across the border from South Sudan to Ethiopia.

During the fighting in South Sudan, Nygua and her siblings were separated from their parents and she has not heard anything from them since they left their home. The four children are thankful for Nyadiet’s care and support and they see her as their grandmother.

Nygua and her siblings are four of over 18,000 separated and unaccompanied children currently living in Gambella refugee camps. UNICEF is supporting UNHCR and other implementing partners to identify and document cases of children entering the camps and restoring family links that shall eventually lead to reunification. As an interim solution for children affected by family separation, alternative care through foster families and kinship care is being provided.

Social workers provide psychosocial support to reunification efforts

Kule refugee camp: Nyadiet’s house is on the left where she lives with he four foster childrenSocial workers attending to the children have been trained in psychosocial support. After the training, Simon, one of the social workers, says he now feels confident on how to identify children that might need further specialized services.

He analyses the interaction of children in the child-friendly spaces and especially looks out for children who seem to be isolated from the group of peers. Simon is from South Sudan himself, and he tries to keep the cultural roots and traditions of the South Sudanese refugees alive by performing traditional folklore, singing songs and telling stories in the child-friendly spaces (CFS).

These activities are crucial for the implementation of a holistic, and culturally adjusted psychosocial intervention. Psychsocial interventions provided in the CFS are tailored to the specific needs of children. Factors such as age, sex, and the different wellbeing concerns that an individual might have, are taken into account in order to provide the appropriate response.

Family tracing and reunification efforts

Nygua is attending school in the camp and sometimes she goes to the activities in the child-friendly space. In collaboration with the social workers, Nyadiet is supporting efforts to find Nygua’s parents. Plan International has already initiated the family tracing process and is working closely with the Ethiopia Red Cross Society and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Nyadiet said that she is happy with the support she is receiving from the social workers, who visit her regularly in her house in Kule. The family has basic commodities, but some items like mosquito nets and soap are always scarce and she worries that there is never enough food in the house to properly feed the four fostered siblings. Nyadiet adds, “I try my best to provide clothes for the four children but also these are scarce sometimes.”

Ethiopia and neighbouring countries are hosting the South Sudanese refugees who have fled their country, since the conflict started in December 2013. Heavy fighting continues in South Sudan and therefore it is not known, when the over 200,000 South Sudanese refugees currently living in Gambella refugee camps can return home.

When asked about her future, Nyagua says: “I wish to find our parents or at least to hear that they are fine and safe.”

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.