Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia

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When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

I Am Determined to Stay Strong for the Children of Gaza

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children's Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. The below piece reflects the opinions of the staff member quoted, reflecting his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza. Save the Children is currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. As a global organization, Save the Children is equally concerned about the well-being of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports an end to the violence against both peoples.,

My heart sank when the 72 hour ceasefire ended after just 90 minutes last Friday. It plumbed new depths when a missile struck outside another school on Sunday killing at least ten people.

I am determined to stay strong for the children of Gaza, however I admit that hope for the future fades with every bomb and rocket strike.

The long sleepless nights I’ve spent listening to buildings destroyed by missiles and shells have been terrifying, but I am equally worried about the future of Gaza when the fighting stops.

Gaza – where before this conflict 80 percent of the population relied on foreign aid – is in ruin. Every attack pushes its people deeper into a life of poverty and loss.

Israel has been attacked too, but its missile defense system has thwarted nearly every rocket sent its way.

This week marks one month since the first missiles were launched, and more than two weeks since the ground offensive began. The death toll stands at more than 1,800, including over 1,000 civilians and 350 children.

How many more days the fighting will last, nobody knows.

Before the conflict Gaza was stymied by the blockade – its fishing zone had been progressively reduced from 20 miles to three miles over the past 20 years, borders were closed meaning building materials could not enter making construction impossible, and imports and exports have been severely restricted.

Recent air strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and the water network mean families are facing a complete collapse of essential services, as electricity and water supplies run out.

Health facilities are also badly affected, with some hospitals warning they only have enough fuel to run electricity generators for another four to five days.

This could leave nearly one million children trapped in a war zone without access to electricity, water or medical services.  Gaza_1

Residents are receiving electricity for a maximum of two hours a day, if at all. I haven’t had electricity for five days now. No water supplies are being delivered and sewage pumps are not working, meaning raw sewage is being pumped onto the streets, raising serious concerns about outbreaks of disease in overcrowded shelters.

When the fighting stops work will begin rebuilding a shattered city. But where do you start?

There are still badly damaged buildings awaiting repair from the 2012 military offensive, and homes destroyed during the 2009 conflict that are yet to be rebuilt.

Gaza was still in recovery mode when this round of fighting erupted.

The job for aid agencies will be massive, arguably without compare. For Save the Children it will range from rehabilitating damaged kindergartens and training teachers in psychosocial support for students to helping patch up hospitals, repairing key infrastructure and child protection services.

And all this before attempting to address the poverty that plagued Gaza before the conflict. Creating employment, livelihoods and civil society. Making Gaza sustainable.

None of this will be possible while the blockade stands – ending it must be part of the solution.

For many, however, life in Gaza will never return to normal. Their homes have been destroyed, livelihoods expunged and their friends and family members killed. How do you come back from that?

What I do know is that the international community must strenuously push for a new ceasefire and find a way to get all parties to uphold it.

At the very least the living must have the chance to bury the dead and see what’s left of their homes. Meanwhile aid agencies must be able to safely help the sick and injured as well as get essential services up and running.

After that, we need a lasting peace agreement including an end to the blockade so Gaza can begin to rebuild.

This is the third conflict between Gaza and Israel I have lived through, as I wrote in the Herald Sun last week, and it’s by far the worst. In Gaza there has been too much loss of life, and also on the Israeli side. It must end, it has to end now.

In the past 30 days I have left my apartment five times – twice during the two failed ceasefires to help with aid distributions with Save the Children and three times to get food for my family.

I live in an apartment with my wife and mother, but some nights we had up to 18 people taking shelter including five children.

We sleep in the corridors where the building is strongest and jump at the slightest of sounds. The other day my wife put a bottle of water down loudly and I ducked for cover, thinking it was another air strike.

Another time we heard a loud whistling noise and ran to the corridor, only to realize it was a car with a high-pitched engine going past.

I have feared for my life too many times.

Let the bloodshed and fighting stop on both sides so we can at least begin the task of rebuilding Gaza.

Learn more about Save the Children's life-saving work on the Gaza/Israel conflict. 

Gaza/Israel: Where Evacuation is No Game

Osama-damo

Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks.

Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time is completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

I write this at 2am from the confines of my apartment with my family. We are all awake and have been since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives. 

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The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

I have not left our apartment in days apart from hurried trips to get more food, I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Gaza is a city full of apartment buildings, we have power for only three hours a day and without electricity there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites, and many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive in 2012 took place in the winter, and back then we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

Save the Children is aiming to distribute 2500 hygiene kits and 2500 baby kits in the coming days, and will also open child friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These provide children vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families on both sides of the conflict, but ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families on both sides.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end. Donate to Save the Children’s Gaza Children in Crisis Fund.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children, as a global organisation, is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.

South Sudan: “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family, but hunger could.”


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children , South Sudan

June 16, 2014

 
 

Nyandong and Sunday“Nyandong* looks straight at me. She is unflinching. Small, thin limbs occasionally wrap around her or clamber up, looking for purchase, as her children mill around us. She has her malnourished one year old boy quiet and still in her arms and her face is intent as she tells me what has happened to her family since brutal fighting engulfed many parts of Jonglei, South Sudan, in December.

“Innocent people were killed in those days. There were a lot of us running together then some of the people we were with got caught. They were surrounded and killed. It was just by luck that we survived. We crouched and hid behind a fence, just hoping no-one would find us. I could see the scared faces of my children, and armed men walking the streets looking for people to kill.

 “When the sun set we left. We took nothing and it took us thirty days to walk here. We ate the leaves off the trees and I thought we would die of thirst. When we saw birds circling in the sky we followed them because we hoped they would be flying above water. I don’t know how we survived.

 “My children kept asking me for food and water but I didn’t have any. The children were constantly crying. They got rashes on their skin and became thin. They wanted to stop. They fell down on their knees and cut themselves. I had to pull them along – if we stopped we would have died there. My daughter had to bring her little brother, but he was too tired. I had to tell her to drag him along even though he cried.

 We are talking in remote Nyirol county, in an area set back from the frontline where tens of thousands of people have fled for safety. But Nyandong explains that for her family and many others, one threat has been replaced by another. Severe hunger is the price they have paid to escape the bullets.

 “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family. But hunger could. Hunger could kill everyone here. Nyandong and family

 “We depend on others. When people in the community give us some food, then we can eat. We eat one small meal a day. We mix grass and leaves in with sorghum to make it last longer. The leaves are very bad for children – it gives them diarrhoea.

 There is just one chink of light. Save the Children screened Nyandong’s 1 year old daughter Sunday* and found she was severely malnourished. We have been providing therapeutic feeding to begin nursing her back to health. “Sunday was about to die” Nyandong says. “She was very thin. A baby should walk one year after she is born but Sunday is more than a year old and still she can’t because of the malnourishment. If she has food I know she will walk soon. And my other children are suffering so much. They have nothing.”

 In South Sudan 50,000 children are likely to die from malnourishment unless treatment is scaled up immediately. Save the Children is helping catch children like Sunday before it is too late, but we need your help to reach more.

 Donate to help the children of South Sudan.

*Names changed to protect identities

“I can’t buy them blankets with my own money.”

December 3, 2012


Nada_syria

Nadia, 30, has four young children. Zahra, her youngest, is only
five months old. Her other two daughters, Hela and Shahad,
have begun coughing. They are living in a bare building in northern
Lebanon, where they have taken refuge after fleeing growing
violence in Syria. With winter approaching, the mother-of-four
increasingly fears for her children’s health and wellbeing.

“We left – they were bombing our village. We didn’t dare to sleep in our houses from the
bombing. Our neighbour’s house was destroyed, to the ground. We ran away and came here.
We ran here, me and my little children. I was pregnant. Now it has been eight months. We are
living in the cold. It’s very cold here. We haven’t any blankets, or even food for the baby.

Life is hard here. It’s cold. We are scared of hunger. We are scared because we don’t have
blankets. We are scared of the winter … all of my children are sick.

Looking down at baby Zahra in her arms, Nadia says, “This is my daughter. She’s sick. She’s five
months old and shouldn’t be in such a room. It’s very cold. There’s nothing to warm us. We
don’t have a heating system. We don’t have fire or gas.
If we want to heat something up, we
make a fire outside. If I want to wash the baby, we have to make a fire, heat the water outside
and then wash her.

“We weren’t like this in our country. It wasn’t our choice to leave. We are forced to live here.  It’s not our decision. We want to go back to our country as soon as possible, because our
circumstances were better there. We were happy and comfortable in our country. But we
were forced to come here. We were too scared. That is why we came here. We ran away
from bombing.”

But finding respite from the conflict has not ensured a safe existence for Nadia or her
children. With no income and next to no money, Nadia isn’t able to buy her children food,
milk, winter clothes or blankets to keep them warm and healthy. “I can’t buy them blankets
with my own money. I feel I am weak because I can’t offer anything for my daughter
. She’s five
months old – she doesn’t know anything. i’m the one who is supposed to offer her what she
needs. She’s only five months old, she’s still so young.”

___________________________________

Click here to learn about our work to help Syrian children in need and donate to help us reach more

What Is A Woman In Syria?


Cat CarterCatherine Carter, Emergency Communications Manager

Za'atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

September 26, 2012


I walk through Za’atari camp on the Jordan/Syria border. The air is thick with yellow dust and it swirls up in a sandstorm, temporarily blinding me. I stop, blinking furiously, and see a woman sat with her children on a mattress nearby.

She is out in the open air in the reception centre, and seems detached from the chaos around her. I walk over to her, crouch down and introduce myself.

Mona

She responds: “My name is Mona. It is not my real name, because I cannot tell you that. I am too afraid of what might happen.”

People fleeing war are often wary of telling strangers about their experiences, worried for family still in the war zone, terrified of retribution.

We talk for a while about why I am here, in this camp. We talk about the importance of speaking out about what we see, why it matters to ensure people’s stories are known. Then we talk about Mona, and how she left Syria, and why.

Life is fear

“Life in Syria…is fear. Everyone is afraid. Sometimes it is quiet, and you are waiting for it to start. And then it is bombardment, and you are waiting for it to end. I kept thinking it would get better, but it kept getting worse”.

I glance at her children, with her on the mattress. Mona touches the face of her youngest, a beautiful child of about 3.

“My children cry in their sleep. They have lost their childhood.”

I ask about their home, and her husband. “My husband…built our home from scratch. In total it took him 12 years. It was burnt down in no more than an hour.” Mona begins to weep, and I do not ask again where her husband is.

To be a woman

As we are finishing our conversation, I ask her about women in Syria, and what they are facing.

“I’ll tell you what it is to be a woman in Syria now. As a woman you are either saying goodbye to someone or trying to protect your children from shells. That is all.”

Please support our campaign to protect children in Syria and donate to support our work with refugees.

“As hard as it is for us here, it’s worse for the ones inside.”

MistyBuswell-Misty Buswell, Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Save the Children

Ramatha, Jordan

May 30, 2012


It’s only about an hour from Amman to Ramtha, near the Syrian border, but once we arrive it feels like a world away. Save the Children is supporting a thousand Syrian refugee and Jordanian children every week in their child friendly space (CFS) here and giving mothers a place they can come to and share their experiences with other mothers who have fled the violence in Syria. And yet there’s still not enough space for everyone who wants to come and there’s a waiting list for when an additional CFS opens in a couple weeks.

Apart from being a bit crowded, it looks like most other CFS’s I’ve visited in other parts of the world – kids playing games and drawing with volunteers and a few staff supervising. I start playing catch with a six year old girl who’s sitting apart from the others, playing on her own. After a few tries she’s got the hang of it and is catching the ball, a beautiful smile lighting up her face. 

My Save the Children colleague tells me that this little girl was so distressed by what she saw that she has not spoken a word since she left Syria, three months ago.

 I’m glad that I could make her smile, even if it was only for a few minutes.

20120529_jordan_blog_mbI later learn that she and her four sisters and baby brother fled with their widowed mom after their home was attacked. Without a husband to earn an income, the family is especially vulnerable and is struggling to pay the high rents charged here and still put food on the table. I wonder what will happen when these families’ savings run out and they can’t afford the rent. The government and local communities have been really supportive of all those coming across the border but with more people coming, scarce resources will be even more stretched and the communities may not be able to cope.

The mothers are in a separate room talking, kids running in and out. When I and my Save the Children colleague enter they are all eager to tell us about their lives and every woman in the room has her own gripping story. Some walked for hours with their children to reach the border and many talk about their homes being destroyed. They all worry about their kids and the lasting effects on them of witnessing the violence. We hear about kids who run and hide when they hear loud noises and others who’ve regressed and lost their toilet training skills – all serious signs of distress. Although they may not have much to go back to, all the moms hold out hope of returning – “Inshallah before Ramadan, Inshallah the violence will stop, Inshallah this will all be over soon.”

After we’ve talked for a while about what these moms and their children need one woman looks at us intently. “As hard as it is for us here, it’s worse for the ones inside (Syria). You should help them, not us.”

Her words came back to me vividly when I learned of the killing of 32 children in Syria on Friday. Children just like the ones I met in that child friendly space in Ramtha. It’s shocking and horrifying that this could happen to children. Humanitarian agencies like Save the Children urgently need access so that we can help those families who need it most. As I leave the child friendly space in Ramtha and head back to Amman and my normal life, I resolve to bring these kid’s voices and stories back with me and not forget what I’ve seen.

When the Rain Comes

Marie photo Marie Dahl, Save the Children protection advisor

Man, Ivory Coast

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It has been a long day of work and I am finally home. As I sit outside, the pitch black sky is lit up by a distant lightning, revealing the silhouette of the belt of mountains that surrounds Man, the town I’m now living in, in western Ivory Coast. There is no thunder, just lightning, and as soon as it’s gone, the sky returns to darkness. Normally, I would have just enjoyed the beauty of this moment, but this time it’s different. I know that later tonight, when the rain catches up with the lightning, there will be children and families unable to sleep because they have no shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes in the Ivory Coast after disputed elections in November sparked a major crisis. Now, almost six months after the elections, children are still suffering the devastating consequences. Their homes have been burnt down, schools destroyed, hospitals looted and family members killed.

Right now, 150,000 people are still displaced in the West alone. Thousands of children are without a home, some staying with host families who don’t have the resources to support everyone. Others live in overcrowded camps, struggling to find free space to lay their heads at night, which, for many, still means sleeping under the stars.

Today I visited one of the camps where about 25,000 people are crowded together on the grounds of a local church. The conditions are atrocious. Apart from the need for adequate shelter, there is also a massive shortage of food, clean water, mosquito nets and medical supplies.

As I walked through the busy and narrow alleys of the camp, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of children – they were everywhere. Many of them showed signs of malnutrition and stomach diseases. Some of them would not stop crying.

The amount of need was palpable at the camp, and I was glad that we were there to take action.

While my colleagues work flat out to provide the basic needs of these children, I work to protect children from abuse, violence and exploitation. Despite the disheartening conditions I had witnessed on my visit, I left the camp with a sense of accomplishment. My visit resulted in a successful negotiation for a free space to set up a temporary school and a supervised playground. Children will soon have an opportunity to learn, play, express themselves and have fun together. In the midst of their daily struggles in the camp, children will have a space to leave their hardships aside and just be children.  

Knowing the space was secured; I had completed my mission of the day and our team returned to our base in Man.

Following a sudden brisk wind and a marked temperature drop, the rain arrived to Man, heavy and merciless. I get myself ready for bed and, knowing that this is only the beginning of the rainy season, I can’t stop thinking of the needs of families spending the night outdoors.

_______________________

Please support our Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) Children in Crisis Fund.

Children and Families Flee Violence in Ivory Coast

Rmcgrath Rae McGrath, Save the Children, Emergency Response Manager

Saclepea, Liberia

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Save the Children is responding to Ivorian refugees streaming into Liberia as result of the conflict in the Ivory Coast. 

Our child protection teams are, "ensuring that children are made safe and brought to a safe place as quickly as possible." Children arrive frightened and fatigued from the long, arduous walk. On a typical day the temperature is around 100 degrees and humid.

Listen to this podcast from Save the Children's Emergency Field Manager in Liberia, Rae McGrath, to learn more about the situation and how we are responding to children's needs

Listen!

Support our Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) Children in Crisis Fund.

Educating the Forgotten Children of the DRC

Sarah press Sarah Press, Save the Children, Democratic Republic of Congo Education Coordinator

New York, New York

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


 Sarah is attending the launch of the 2011 Global Monitoring Report at Columbia University in New York City today on behalf of Save the Children. This year’s report examines the consequences of conflict on children’s education.

If you want to put names and faces to the millions of forgotten children in the world, you might start in the rolling hills of Kitchanga, north of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) There you will find thousands of children living in poverty exacerbated by violence and a general lack of interest from the international community. You might start with Rafiki, a twelve-year-old child with a bright smile and a nearly unbelievable sense of optimism. 
 
Rafiki’s father died when he was just four years old. When he was 10, he and his mother fled from their home when one of the many active armed groups in the region tore through their village, burning homes and fields and destroying anything in their path. “I don’t know why they did it,” he told me sadly, “no one knows.” 
 
When the soldiers came, we saw and ran away. I was too scared. I thought I was going to die. Everyone ran. We came on foot with nothing, only our clothes that we were wearing. We came to stay with my uncle because we didn’t know what else to do,” Rafiki recalls. 
 
Rafiki’s uncle took them in, and his mother helps around the house, collecting water and wood and helping with the cooking. 
 
I wanted to go to school right away,” Rafiki said, “I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to continue but I couldn’t. My mother didn’t have any money to pay (the fees) and my uncle couldn’t help. Instead, I helped my mother with her chores. 
 
“Children who are not in school are treated like vagabonds, like bandits. Children who go to school are respected by the others and by the grownups,” he said. “I felt awful when I wasn’t in school.  I felt like I had no life.”
 
Last August, Rafiki and his mother heard that Save the Children was helping children who were not in school to enroll.  Rafiki was thrilled. He is now in his last year of primary school – a school in which the teachers have been trained through the support of Save the Children, and in which there are children’s clubs and recreational activities and schoolbooks. Rafiki comes to school every day.  He says that he feels better about himself and about his life, and he hopes that one day he’ll be a doctor.
 
“I love school!” he said, “I want to have a good life.”
 
He pointed to the secondary school next door to his primary school. “That’s where I’ll go next year.” 
 
But he probably won’t. 
 
Secondary school fees are as high as 5 to 10 times primary school fees, and Rafiki’s mother couldn’t pay those. The district of Kitchanga, while home to more than 20 Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and more than 40,000 displaced people, is not considered enough of an emergency to garner the kind of humanitarian support that would allow a child like Rafiki to continue his schooling. In Kitchanga, 24 rapes were reported during the weeks around Christmas; in another part of the country, that figure was in the hundreds. While 24 rapes would be a crisis in your neighbourhood or mine, in the DRC it pales in comparison to other emergencies. The children of Kitchanga are trapped in a grey area: they live in a context of instability, but not enough instability for the humanitarian community to consider them a priority. 
 
The funding for Save the Children’s education program in Kitchanga ran out at the end of February 2011, and there is no further funding in sight. Thanks to the support he’s already received Rafiki will make it to the end of primary school.  But what of the children who will come after him? Each child in Kitchanga who enrolls in school, each parent who enrolls his child in school, is making a statement of optimism: against all odds, they are insisting in a belief in the future of Kitchanga and the future of DRC, which most of the world seems to have forsaken.

 ______________________

Help Keep Children in Conflict Zones in School