Tag Archives: classrooms

Sarah Rowse – DR Congo / Burundi – A report from a little known crisis

20 May

“There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.”

I’m not long returned from a trip to eastern DR Congo where I was visiting Children in Crisis’ work with young Burundian refugees.

These teenagers, many of whom are unaccompanied minors – separated from their parents and siblings – have fled an unfolding and worsening crisis in their country.

It’s a lesser known crisis, one that hasn’t hit the headlines. Indeed, Burundi is a lesser known country that few have heard of, but what’s abundantly clear to me, from visiting the refugee camp and spending time with the young Burundian refugees with whom we’re working, is that this unfolding humanitarian crisis is no less important.

Since the crisis in Burundi first erupted two years ago, ignited by the unconstitutional and deeply divisive decision by incumbent President Nkurunziza to run for a third term, Burundi has been thrust into political and economic turmoil. Government crackdowns against opposition movements, suppression of the media, an increase in violence and extrajudicial arrests – have resulted in upwards of 260,000 refugees (the majority women and children) having fled to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Uganda.

Those that have fled to eastern DR Congo, some 16,000 of them, are living in a refugee camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Since November 2015, Children in Crisis alongside our dedicated local partner, Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI), have been working predominantly with young people from this camp and with head teachers and teachers from the surrounding Congolese secondary schools. These schools, whilst doing their best to accommodate the young refugees, are struggling.

To this end, we’ve thus far supplied much-needed teaching and learning materials to the host schools to accommodate increased enrolment. We provided just over 1,000 school kits and uniforms – responding to the very real needs of these young Burundians who have fled, literally with the clothes on their back. We’ve applied our extensive pedagogical expertise to provide much-needed training to Congolese teachers from the host schools to help them respond to the changed classroom environment that the refugee crisis has brought, and we’ve established drama clubs for refugee and non-refugees alike, helping young people to express themselves and make sense of the situation they find themselves in.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. Photo credit: a photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. This photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

Children in Crisis’ focus on education – both formal and non-formal – in this emergency context, is essential; it is also a mammoth task.

It is essential for the following reasons:-

  • At a time when young people are facing the toughest of times, uprooted from friends and family , going to school and maintaining their education provides some precious normality and stability in their lives.
  • In refugee situations, as has sadly been played out time and time again, young people are far more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; the risk of recruitment into militias is a very real one, and girls in particular are at greater risk of sexual violence. The protective function that going to school plays in such situations can’t be understated.

But the task, as I mentioned, is a mammoth one.

With the crisis in Burundi showing no signs of abating, refugee numbers are predicted to increase.

The host Congolese secondary schools, even before the refugee crisis, were woefully under-resourced.

School buildings are small, cramped and dilapidated and there is a need to construct new schools and classrooms to cope with the doubling, in some cases, trebling, of enrolment.

In one of the schools I visited, Institute Lokololo, the head teacher had taken the initiative to rent an additional building to accommodate increased enrolment of refugee and non-refugee students, but the school lacked the means to furnish the school and, as a result, students were reduced to sitting on planks of wood or on upturned bricks on the dirt floor. There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools (photo taken by Burundian students).

A school toilet.

A school toilet (photo taken by Burundian students).

DSC_0815

Temporary classrooms have quickly fallen into a bad state (photo taken by Thea Lacey).

And these teenagers – like teenagers the world over – are bright, articulate, creative, intelligent, proud individuals.

Each that I spoke too had ambitions and hopes.

Each were clearly deeply anxious and troubled by the situation they find themselves in.

Each had harrowing stories to tell of what forced them to flee.

Children in Crisis and EMI are the only organisations responding to young people’s secondary educational needs at this time. We can and must do more to respond to the plight of these young people; with over 10 years skills and experience working in the region, in the field of education and with displaced communities, we know what to do and how best to do it, in response.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

If we are able to secure the necessary support, this is what we will do:

Increase the secondary school premises available in Lusenda as the current situation is untenable. We are currently drawing up plans to construct a new school building.

Address the gap in out-of-school activities for young people of secondary school age (both in and out of school) in a way that combines several different goals, such as :

  • boosting intra-community cohesion
  • providing young people with positive ways to spend their free time (reducing the risk of them being attracted to anti-social and harmful activities)
  • creating ‘edu-tainment’ opportunities through which important public health and protection messages relating to early marriage, sexual and reproductive health can be communicated to other young people and the wider community.

In addition to additional teacher and school management training provide support to schools to establish enterprises; enabling them to generate a school income & increase resources such as classroom furniture and learning materials (which are currently at a very low level and which will need maintaining into the future).

The establishment of school enterprises would also enable young people to learn enterprise and business skills. Such skills would be highly relevant to young Burundians at this time, helping them to offset any dependency created as a result of their refugee status.

Advocacy & support

We need help in order to sustain our activities in the longer term. We need advocates and supporters to raise awareness of the plight of these young people and of this little known crisis that is unfolding in this little known country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch or donate online if you think that you can help today.

Peter Simms – Afghanistan – In these rooms, women had power

27 Mar

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

This month, classes at Children in Crisis’ current five Community Based Education Centres (CBECs) project in Afghanistan, came to an end. We are now working on opening Centres within other communities that need their support.

Every community project comes to an end and interventions, however long, can never be permanent. These five latest Education Centres run by Children in Crisis have been incredibly successful, helping women and children to access basic education. 300 children, mostly girls, from some of the poorest communities in Kabul have been able to gain a full primary education despite never having previously been to school. In addition, over 1,000 women from these communities have learned to read, write, and develop other critical skills at the CBECs.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

For the girls who came to these Centres they will be half as likely to marry before their 16th birthday, and far less likely to be a mother before the age of 15. The women will be twice as likely to have their own children live past the age of five, and for every year of schooling will have a 20 per cent increase in household earnings.

However, the benefits of these centres go beyond statistics. The girls and women who came to these five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

From extensive research done around the world, we know that girls who learn to read and write will be more likely to work, to support their families, and to be economically independent. But the realities of life here in Afghanistan pose an added barrier to this empowerment. The lack of access to education for girls in Afghanistan was always a symptom of broader gender inequalities and reflected deep social norms inhibiting their participation in not only schools, but also in society and communities as a whole.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Reducing education to its rate of return is simply inadequate as a measure of impact in Afghanistan. Instead we need to look closer, to look harder at what education actually means to children and women of these communities. Paolo Freire showed how education allows people to be able to read the world – to describe, and then define, their contexts – to be truly conscious.

As I spoke to women in the CBECs it was clear that, despite progress made, their world is still not one of open opportunity.  However, the Community Education Centres offered something more – ‘A place to gather’ was the most common response; ‘a chance to leave the house’; ‘to be outside’. Many said it was where they could share experiences with other women. Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak. In these rooms women had power, and through shared experience they could develop resilience.

One Community Education Centre is not going to break the deep-rooted structures of gender inequality in Afghanistan, but it can begin a process and encourage dialogue where women have a space to assert themselves and develop their own identities. The skills of reading and writing can then empower that identity, allowing someone to use a telephone, read a medicine box, or help a child with their homework.

Children in Crisis' latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis’ latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis will be opening new CBECs in other marginalised communities over the coming year, taking a model that we know works and expanding it to reach even more women and children. We will work in areas where others don’t go, meaning the challenges will be greater and the achievements relative to just how deprived these communities are.

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

Children in Crisis has currently been able to find support for two new Community Based Education Centres. We are still seeking funding to help us open the remaining three Centres within communities whose children and women need assistance. If you, your company or Charitable Foundation think you could help, please email Peter on peters@childrenincrisis.org

Sarah Rowse – Liberia – The fruit of collective endeavour

26 Nov

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose

Together with Children in Crisis’ dedicated partner in Liberia, FAWE, Children in Crisis UK joined hands with our colleagues from Children in Crisis Italy the week before last, to celebrate the opening of a newly constructed School, Logan Town Primary.

The School, which is located in the heart of River Cess County, was constructed with funds raised by Children in Crisis Italy and is an impressive nine classroom building. On the day of the inauguration, the pupils and their teachers proudly showed us around their new school, pointing out with great pride the whitewashed walls, sizeable classrooms and wall length blackboards; it stands in stark contrast to the small, cramped, makeshift school that stood before it.

When Children in Crisis and FAWE first undertook an assessment visit to Logan Town School in 2012, the learning conditions of the children in the old school were deplorable. Despite the valiant efforts of the teaching staff and parents of Logan Town to maintain and repair the makeshift classrooms, Liberia’s extreme of climate meant that they faced a constant uphill struggle. During the wet season, the thatched roof of the school and its mud walls failed to stand up to torrential rainfall.

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town's old school had collapsed

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town’s old school had collapsed

Conversely, during the dry season, when temperatures rose, cramped classrooms were hot and uncomfortable for children and teachers alike. There was no safe water-point for the school from which pupils could drink. Nor were there any toilet facilities, so children would simply do their business in the bush. For girls, the lack of hygienic toilet facilities at the old school made it especially embarrassing, uncomfortable and difficult for them to attend school when they were having their period. As the Principal of Logan Town School explained at the time, this in part contributed to the disproportionally high drop-out rate of girls (60%) compared to boys (40%) recorded over the course of the 2012/13 school year.

Logan Town's children outside of their old school.

Logan Town’s children outside of their old school.

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose – when children are exposed to the elements on account of a leaking roof, holes in the walls and dilapidated school furniture. This is what compelled Children in Crisis UK, Children in Crisis Italy and FAWE to work together with the community of Logan Town to build a school that is worthy of its name.

And this, I am pleased to report, is what we’ve achieved. The new nine classroom School includes a library, school canteen, water pump from which to draw safe drinking water and two latrine blocks, separate for girls and boys. It took 12-months to construct, at a cost of £81,084 in building materials and labour, and was the result of impressive collective endeavour. The contractor and workforce, for example, were fed and accommodated by the community of Logan Town throughout the construction period as part of the community contribution to the building. Also, of particular note, was the contribution made by the County Authorities of River Cess to rebuild a dilapidated bridge so as to ensure that the building materials could be transported to site. This investment will bring longer term gains to an otherwise isolated, inaccessible rural community as it will facilitate better vehicular access to Logan Town and the surrounding villages, and with it, benefits such as increased market opportunities and services.    

Logan Town's new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Logan Town’s new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Water pump

A water pump at the new school, providing drinking water for the children

On other levels too, the multiplier effect of rebuilding the School are significant. The building will serve not only as a Primary School for upward of 300 children in the morning, but, with support from the Ministry of Education of Liberia, will soon serve as a Junior Secondary School in the afternoons. This will make Logan Town one of only four other Junior Secondary Schools in the entire county of River Cess, which is a significant development for the education and learning opportunities of children and young people here. Not only this, but parents will also be able to attend adult literacy classes in the evenings. Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark. When Mr Dee announced this at the inauguration, he timed it so that all the lights came on in the school with a well-orchestrated nod of the head. It was impeccable timing on his behalf, and was met, understandably, with great applause by everyone present. In a rural community such as this, where there is no mains electricity, this will be a source of great community pride for years to come.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

For the past 5 years, Children in Crisis have been working in Liberia, a country deeply affected by the legacy of war, to support schools and communities to rebuild the countries shattered education system. Our work in rural Liberia, in River Cess County, has focussed principally on teacher training and skills training for women. It has, as yet, comprised only a small construction component, with Logan Town representing the sixth school to be rebuilt by Children in Crisis in partnership with FAWE. However, learning from this and from our in-depth understanding of educational needs in the remote interior of the County, presents a compelling case for why Children in Crisis will continue its programme of school building in the years to come.

Watch this space as we monitor the progress of pupils from Logan Town School in the year ahead.

Read more:

A news piece on Children in Crisis’s website with videos from Logan Town.

Charlotte: Liberia – The River is boss

8 Nov Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them” 

Having recently joined Children in Crisis as the new Programme Manager for Liberia, I was excited to visit our programmes in Liberia and get to know our local implementing partners, FAWE Liberia. As I have only just returned from two years in Liberia with another large International NGO, I was very interested to see how Children in Crisis and FAWE fare in comparison – and I have to say, I was impressed. Not only are Children in Crisis and FAWE delivering world-class programming for children – we are also practicing what we preach – reaching the most remote and hardest to reach communities.

After arriving on Sunday evening in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on Monday morning we set straight off to River Cess – the county where Children in Crisis and FAWE are working. River Cess is a remote county in Liberia’s south eastern region – a region which is widely recognised as an area of huge need, but which is also notoriously remote and hard to reach, so that few NGOs venture there (Children in Crisis and FAWE are currently the only NGOs delivering teacher training in River Cess, and the Children in Crisis/FAWE Vocational Training Centre is the only vocational training institute in the entire county providing skills training and adult literacy for vulnerable women).

The road conditions travelling to River Cess were incredible – a slalom of red mud, rain and river crossings, making it a perilous journey only passable because of the skill and courage of the FAWE driver, and the powerful new four-wheel-drive vehicle we were lucky enough to procure thanks to generous donor support.

Children in Crisis / FAWE vehicle stuck in mud in Liberia

The Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle gets stuck in the mud on the road between Monrovia and River Cess, trying to pass a truck which has been stuck in the mud for days. The team had to winch the vehicle out of the mud – this is a frequent occurrence whenever travelling to River Cess.

This is not something new for the team here – with such difficult road conditions, particularly during Liberia’s heavy rainy season from April to October each year, the Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle regularly gets ‘hitched’ in the mud, as Liberians say! However, this is only the beginning. Once the team reach Cestos City, the capital of River Cess County (which is more like a small village than a ‘city’!), they have a much longer journey ahead, and one where the trusty 4-wheel drive can’t go. From there, they brave the motorbikes in pairs – and on these roads, it’s not for the faint hearted!

The FAWE Teacher Trainers regaled me with stories of slipping and sliding their way through narrow jungle pathways, or hauling their motorbikes over their heads to wade through rivers waist deep which intercept the thick jungle pathways. And then there is always that inevitable point where the ‘bush’ (the jungle) gets so thick even the motorbike can’t get through, and our FAWE colleagues continue on foot – often for up to 4-5 hours, and with numerous perilous river crossings along the way, forcing the team to wade through shallow waters, travel in dug-out canoes, or cross tentative bridges made of single tree trunks on their hands and knees because there was nothing to hold on to. The River really is boss in River Cess, as the name implies.

The Cestos River and its many tributaries branch across the county, paying little heed to roads or bridges in its path (or houses and schools, for that matter!). But FAWE have been working in River Cess for years, and the team know the terrain, and are familiar with the determination of the River – but their determination is even greater, and it’s truly inspiring to see the lengths they go to, to reach these remote communities.

So many of the communities we are working in are so remote and so far from the road, no NGO has ever ventured there before, let alone Liberia’s under-resourced government – during a recent baseline assessment (which Children in Crisis and FAWE undertook to identify the most vulnerable schools to target for the project this year) one of the Children in Crisis/FAWE Teacher Trainers described how “when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them”. She quoted one community leader who told them “no NGO has ever reached us before. We are so happy. Thank you for finding us.”

So, why do we do it? Because Children in Crisis and FAWE believe that every child has the right to education, no matter where they are – we are committed to ensuring all children receive the education they need for their flourishing and wellbeing and to help transform their lives. Where resources are few, where education is needed to heal the nation, and where it is too remote for others, we are determined to support children to read, write, think, pursue their life goals and contribute positively to their communities and their countries – and this means ALL children, not just those who are easy to reach.

Gallery of photos (click to enlarge and browse):

We also do it because equitable access to quality education and development opportunities is essential for maintaining Liberia’s peace. The brutal civil war, which tore Liberia apart between 1989 and 2003, was triggered by the frustration caused by the stark inequality between the few who ‘had’ and the vast majority who ‘had not’, and widespread poverty and exclusion in Liberia’s most remote rural areas left thousands of people (particularly disenfranchised young men) frustrated and vulnerable to being mobilised by warlords and militia groups. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important that Liberia’s post-conflict transition and recovery includes development for all, not just development for those who are easier to reach – not just to ensure Liberia’s growth and development, but also for lasting peace.

But doesn’t reaching the most remote mean spending more time, energy and resources, I hear you ask? Well, it’s not so much a question of how much you invest, as a question of what return you get from that investment, and I’ve seen first-hand that when you go the extra mile (quite literally!) to reach the hardest to reach, you get that effort back tenfold from the communities.

For example, while in Liberia, I was lucky enough to observe our fantastic Teacher Trainers in action during some Parent Teacher Association (PTA) training. Children in Crisis and FAWE are not just committed to improving access to and quality of education through training teachers and school administrators, building and rehabilitating schools and distributing school materials – we’re also committed to empowering and mobilising communities via PTAs to take their children’s education into their own hands to inspire lasting, sustainable change – this PTA training helps to equip PTAs with the knowledge and skills they need to do this. During the training, I witnessed first-hand the commitment and dedication of the parents and teachers in the remote communities where we work to grab this development opportunity with both hands and make life better for their children. Like our FAWE colleagues, they too are determined, no matter how long and perilous the journey they have to take to get there (to minimise the distance participants have to travel, make the most of limited resources, and so PTA members can learn together and share their experiences, we cluster the training into groups of communities, to get as close as possible to the schools, but with such sparse and remote communities, this still means a long journey for most).

Martha J Waye is a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) member from Yarnee District in River Cess. She is pictured here, presenting group-work back to her fellow participants at the recent Children in Crisis/FAWE PTA training in Cestos, River Cess, in September 2012. She walked for 4 hours and crossed the Cestos River for another 2 hours in a dug-out canoe to reach the training, but she was delighted to be there – Martha told us how happy she was to be part of the training, and how she would have walked even further to be there, because she is so happy that now she knows how to be a good PTA member and how to make the school better for children. She said she would carry all the good lessons back to her school and do everything the trainers taught her. She thanked FAWE and Children in Crisis for everything they are doing for her community, and for not forgetting their community because they are too far.

Children in Crisis and FAWE Parent Teacher Association Trainer

Martha J Waye – small in frame, but big in passion and determination – who walked for 4 hours and travelled for another 2 hours by canoe to reach the PTA training.

Children in Crisis and FAWE work hard to reach the furthest and most remote communities, who are often forgotten and miss out on basic services like education, but when we get there, the passion and commitment of community members like Martha make the journey worth every step. Their determination, passion and commitment to make the most of every training opportunity or resource provided and work tirelessly to improve their children’s education means that any investment we make is magnified and has a massive impact of the most vulnerable children. So, even if the investment of time, effort and resource we have to make is slightly higher to reach the hardest to reach, the return on that investment is so huge, and the impact on children so great, it’s worth it.

I will leave you with a single image of Principal Kofa Nagbe from Boboe Public School (he was trained by Children in Crisis & FAWE in 2011), who we met along the road one day on our way to Logan Town School. Unfortunately, we reached a point where the bridge was impassable (a heavy-duty log-bridge had been transformed into a raft-like structure, barely clinging to the banks of the swollen river below), so we had to bid farewell to Principal Nagbe, who has a long journey ahead on foot, through rivers and jungle, to reach his school and community. But he won’t give up – he will keep walking, no matter how far and no matter what the weather, because like so many of the teachers, community members and children we work with, they are determined to rebuild their lives and look forward to a brighter future.

Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

I left Liberia feeling incredibly proud to work for Children in Crisis and in partnership with FAWE. It is truly inspiring to see the lengths the team are willing to go to reach the hardest to reach, and even more inspiring still to see how far communities are willing to go to improve education for their children. With such passion and determination among Liberians, whether beneficiary communities or our dedicated local partner colleagues, I have no doubt that Liberia will recover and re-build, even if it is a long road ahead…