Back from the bush: Education in the Central African Republic
Bocaranga, CAR, December 09 - It may not look like much; a rickety wooden structure with a thatched roof and open sides; two metre long log benches supported a few centimetres above the ground, but for seventy pupils, the Martin Luther school in Bocaranga, in the dusty scrubland of the far north-west corner of the Central African Republic offers the best possibility to move forward following years of conflict.
Ten year old Leonard is one of the pupils who attends this so-called 'bush school'. 'Both my parents died, so I need to study hard at school to improve my life.'
Sporting a red football shirt, he is eager to learn and enthusiastically shouts out the drills called by his teacher.
The school is extremely basic and lives up to its name as a bush school. It is one of around twenty-five schools in this impoverished part of CAR that is serving a population that has suffered years of armed conflict between rebel groups and government forces. Many of the pupils attending these schools were forced to flee their homes by the fighting and are now living in informal settlements around towns like Bocaranga.
Leonard has been attending this school for a year and hopes to become a teacher, a commendable aspiration in a region bereft of trained educators. The woman in front of him today is Yvonne Poukou. She is what is known in French, the language of education in CAR as a 'maître parent', a parent who has been trained as a teacher, but who does not have a full teaching qualification. She is one of around a hundred maître parents in an area where there are only seven fully qualified teachers provided by the government.
The harsh living conditions, the remoteness of Bocaranga and the huge needs of the local population of school children means that it has always been difficult to attract teachers here. 'I do this for the children,' says Yvonne Poukou. 'It is a difficult job; I get little money and I suffer a lot teaching 70 children every day.'
The bush schools in Bocaranga have been set up the United Nations children's fund, Unicef, and funded by a contribution of €1.1 million from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). In total 800 schools across CAR have been funded and over 2000 maître parents trained.
'The violence and insecurity in northern CAR have led to more than 110,000 people being displaced in the bush without access to basic services,' said Muriel Cornelis, the head of the ECHO office in CAR.
'In an emergency situation, a school provides more than just somewhere for the children to study,' she added. 'It also often provides access safe drinking water, healthcare and protection. For many of the children attending bush schools this is a positive step towards a normal life.'
Ten year old Leonard has plenty to learn before he realises his dream of becoming a teacher. Sporadic rebel activity and banditry continue in the region, but the bush school means, that at least, for the time being, Leonard can continue his studies.