by Charlotte Balfour-Poole
There are over 42,000 Somalis who have fled across the border living in Dollo Ado refugee camp – in total, in this cluster of camps on the Somali border, there are over 201,000 refugees, of whom half are children.
I was last here three years ago so, although I am returning with some degree of familiarity, I have no idea how conditions may have changed and whether children are getting the education so vital for their futures.
One thing is for sure: my journey down from Addis Ababa is more than two days faster, with the help of a UN Humanitarian Aid flight.
On arrival I am welcomed by our staff, who have dug out a photo of us together in Bokolmayo, the only camp that existed when I was here before. The heat is overwhelming: it’s 39 degrees in the shade, but I’m keen to get to the camp to meet the many children who are participating in the European Commission’s Children of Peace project, part of the Nobel Peace Prize.
When we arrive I am greeted by a mighty fine welcome. The children are flooding out of school in their bright uniforms – green dresses and yellow headscarves – waving and smiling as we drive up to the school gates.
An education at last
I’m eager to know how the children are finding school, what their hopes and dreams are for the future, and how this ECHO (Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission) funding has helped to ensure they get some degree of basic education.
The first school we visit has, I’m told, 1,724 children. It’s wonderful to see children learning in this barren and dusty setting which could feel soulless, were it not for their chanting, laughter and smiles.
The difference is hope
The situation here is much as it was three years ago, with one important difference: now there is hope for these children. A chance to attend school for the very first time – to learn and catch up on years missed.
Dolwlay*, aged 13, tells me that she’s been in the camp for four years and is now in her second year of school; one day, she hopes to be a teacher. She tells me she loves coming to school to have the opportunity to learn.
There is still much the schools need, and so many children on the waiting list, desperate to get a chance to learn.
A desperate need for facilities
There’s no immediate threat to these people’s lives, but there are also very limited opportunities for the refugee population living here and no clear timeframe for when they will be able to go home. As we leave the school we bump into a former teacher who is accompanied by his heavily pregnant wife; she is very sick but, given that this is a refugee camp with only the most basic health facilities, her chances of getting the care she needs are slim. Her predicament reminds me how precarious life for people here can be. One thing for sure is that providing basic services here, including education, is one hope people have.
*name changed to protect identity