Educating Hassina: From a humble classroom, big dreams

News Stories, 27 October 2010

© UNHCR/ K. Ringuette
Fifteen-year-old Hassina, an Eritrean refugee in eastern Sudan, recently earned a UNHCR scholarship to attend high school after finishing top among students from 17 primary classes.

KASSALA, SUDAN October 27 (UNHCR) Born into a refugee camp in eastern Sudan to parents who lost everything when they fled their home in Eritrea, Hassina could have given up hope. Instead, she resolved to fulfil her potential, a potential which came closer to being realized recently when she graduated top out of 17 graduating primary school classes, earning herself a UNHCR scholarship to attend the region's best high school.

In eastern Sudan, more than 10,000 refugee children living in 12 camps are attending UNHCR-funded primary schools. The schools teach grades 1 through 8 and are run by Sudan's Commissioner for Refugees.

Establishing, maintaining and upgrading schools for such a large number of children would be a major endeavour in any environment. It is a particular challenge in a refugee camp. "UNHCR funding covers the basic needs of primary education facilities from supplies to construction," said Elsa Bokhre, a Community Services Officer with UNHCR. "In the past year we've created temporary classrooms that have allowed an additional 500 children aged six to eight to go to school. We've also provided skills development and training for teachers. Since 2005, we have awarded secondary school scholarships that have so far helped 160 refugee students, the majority of them girls."

Women and elders living in the camps regularly cite education as the main priority for their community, and refugee children have proven themselves to be especially motivated to learn and able to over come obstacles. Lessons are often taught in the shade of a tree and homework completed with the aid of a flashlight.

Hassan Idris Ahmed is a senior teacher at the primary school Hassina attended in the Shagarab refugee camp. His is one of three schools in the camp serving more than 1,000 students.

In the decade since he began at the school Hassan says he has witnessed positive changes in attitudes towards education and in its ability to influence lives. "Education has changed attitudes and especially refugees' understanding of health and hygiene," he said. "Students learn about it at school and they are instructed to take the knowledge back home and share it with their family."

Among those areas where improvements are still needed, according to Hassan, is the ratio of one text book for every five students; the ability of very poor families to afford school uniforms and an item that most would consider a necessity in a country where temperatures often reach 50 degrees. "I dream of having a small solar-power system to run a water cooler for the school," he says.

Attending the Alhuea Schools for Girls means that Hassina must now live with relatives on the outskirts of Kassala, the main town in eastern Sudan, while her family continues to live at the Shagarab refugee camp an hour and a half away.

Their influence though continues to be felt. "Even as a small child school was important to me. My father supported me and encouraged me all this time and he continues to offer support and calls to ask how I am doing," said Hassina who says she hopes to study medicine and provide medical care to her community.

By Karen Ringuette in Kassala, Sudan

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