By Gerida Burikila and Geoffrey Njoku
Children in Maiduguri, Nigeria, are devouring their lessons. They are packing into classrooms and practising their A-B-Cs and maths, a cohort of eager students deprived of an education and hungry to learn.
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, 6 April 2015 – These days, in camps for internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, Borno State, children are collecting eagerly in cramped spaces, eyes trained on the front of the room. They are learning to read, count and write – many for the first time.
These children are among the thousands of families who have fled conflict and sought refuge in Maiduguri. Even if they attended school, at some point, the security situation has of late been dire. Most schools closed after attacks on the teachers and buildings. Other children have not been permitted to attend school that provides Western education. All told, thousands of children have been denied their right to an education.
School, in the camps
In Borno State, schools are open in only 8 of the 27 local government areas and remain closed where conflict between the military and armed groups is most active.
UNICEF has established catch-up lessons for children living in the camps in Maiduguri. Trained teachers run the classes, which can be packed. More than 30,371 children aged 6–15 have enrolled.
In one class of 106 girls aged 6–15, only six children have ever been to school. When we visit, the girls are eager to show that they can count from 1 to 100. Classes are giving them a chance to learn. Classes are giving them a chance to play, sing and socialize. Classes are keeping them safe.
Hadiza* is in this class.
At the age of 13, she has experienced things most people never have to suffer in a lifetime. She has seen her father shot in the head, and she has helped bury him. She has been detained in a prison yard, where she witnessed the execution of men and teenage boys, daily. She has scaled a barbed-wire fence to escape. She has seen her sister married off to a member of Boko Haram.
These days, in the safety of Maiduguri, she cares for her mother, who is suffering from trauma-induced hypertension, and two younger sisters. At night, as she rests, what she has been through becomes all too vivid. “I see my father being shot and bleeding. I also dream about people who were killed in front of me in prison. I also dream that Boko Haram is chasing and arresting me.”
Every day, Hadiza finds a spot in the more peaceful part of the camp to recite the alphabet and work out the basic maths she is being taught in the camp’s makeshift school. She thrills at the opportunity to learn. “I have never been to school before. Here, they allowed me to go to school. My young sisters were also enrolled. I can read a, b, c, d, e – and I can count. I have been in school for two months now. My best subjects are mathematics and English.
“I love school. I have made new friends in school.”
A chance, for children
Hadiza is in good company. According to Fatma, one of the teachers, “Students are very enthusiastic. They are very happy to be in school for the first time in their life. Within a month, they are able to recognize alphabets, count and write the letters. It is very exciting.”
And the excitement spreads beyond the children. “Mothers are bringing in their daughters so that they can get the education they, themselves, were denied as children. We even have some mothers begging us to teach them how to read and write and are demanding classes, too,” says Fatma.
Hadiza has plans for the future – plans that UNICEF and partners aim to enable, by supporting Nigeria in a Safe Schools Initiative to mitigate the impact of conflict on education. Rapid assessments, mapping and profiling of affected communities, schools, children and teachers have been conducted. Strategies include enhancing security in schools, transferring students to lower-risk areas and supporting them in locations in which there are internally displaced persons.
The initiative is working hard to make schools safer for children like Hadiza, so she can realize her dreams. “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher, so that I can teach young children how to read and write. I also want to be a teacher to earn money to look after my mother and my young sisters.”
*Name has been changed.