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A UNICEF transit camp school brings hope to children on the Tunisia-Libya border

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By Natasha Scripture

RAS JDIR, Tunisia, 12 May 2011 – Gleaming in the sunshine, the white tent of the new UNICEF-supported school at Shousha camp in Ras Jdir stands like a beacon of hope.

This week it opened its doors to more than 150 children, all of whom are eager to study and participate in recreational activities after weeks of uncertainty along the Tunisia-Libya border, where thousands of people fleeing the Libyan conflict have been coming and going since mid-February.

New aspirations

“I want to learn English, it’s the international language,” said Tahir, 18, from Chad, who spent the morning learning the English alphabet with nearly 50 other students, many of them originally from Chad, Niger, Eritrea and Somalia.

English is just one of the subjects being taught at the UNICEF-funded school, which is being managed by partner organization Save the Children. French, mathematics and Arabic are also a part of the curriculum, taught by eight qualified teachers, all of whom have passed a formal teaching examination. Although the majority of students speak Arabic, the teaching staff is multi-lingual, ensuring that all children are able to follow and engage in lessons.

Believing every child has a right to an education, UNICEF continues to campaign worldwide on the importance of getting children back to school, even in the most challenging environments.

“Ideally, children would be taught in their mother tongue, but in this context where we have so many children of different nationalities, the main teaching language is Arabic, with additional support being provided to communities from Somalia and Eritrea,” said Sara Hildrew, Education Advisor at Save the Children UK.

Jude, 8, came to the UNICEF-supported school on Tuesday accompanied by her mother, Awatef, in order to register for daily classes. “I want to be an eye doctor when I grow up,” she said assertively.

‘A protective environment’

It’s the second time in her life that Awatef – originally from Darfur in Sudan – has been forced to escape conflict. She left Tripoli, where she worked as a hairdresser, by bus at the end of March with her seven children after living in Libya for 28 years. “I fled one war, and now another. I just want to live somewhere in peace where my kids can study and find good jobs,” she said. One of her children remains in Tripoli.

Awatef and her family have been living at Shousha camp for the last ten days. They initially stayed at the United Arab Emirates transit camp nearby before re-locating to Shousha, where nearly 3,700 people currently live. All are third country nationals waiting to be repatriated or resettled.

“Returning children to school after an emergency is critical as not only does it provide them with a protective environment, but it also plays an important role in helping them overcome the psychological impact of being displaced and often far from the only home they’ve ever known,” said UNICEF Representative in Tunisia Maria-Luisa Fornara.

It’s certainly giving fresh focus to Abdullah, 16, originally from Guinea, who had been living and working in a wheat mill in Sabha, Libya, for a year. “All I want is to study. Study, study, study. I’ll now go wherever they’ll allow me to go to school,” he said.

A child’s right

UNICEF has also been working with the Tunisian Ministry of Education to help provide two to three classrooms in Tunisian schools in the areas around Remada where many Libyan refugee children and families are currently living.

Libyan teachers from the refugee community will be used to teach the children, which will enable the specific educational needs of Libyan children to be addressed, while normalizing their lives by providing them with an outlet for social interaction and learning.