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




UNHCR country pages


Education is vital in restoring hope and dignity to young people driven from their homes.

DAFI Scholarships

The German-funded Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative provides scholarships for refugees to study in higher education institutes in many countries.

Chad: Education in Exile

UNHCR joins forces with the Ministry of Education and NGO partners to improve education for Sudanese refugees in Chad.

The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

UNHCR and its partners continue to provide training and salaries for teachers in all 12 refugee camps, ensuring a quality education for refugee children. NGO partners maintain schools and supply uniforms to needy students. And UNICEF is providing books, note pads and stationary. In August 2007 UNHCR, UNICEF and Chad's Ministry of Education joined forces to access and improve the state of education for Sudanese uprooted by conflict in Darfur.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Chad: Education in Exile

Education for Displaced Colombians

UNHCR works with the government of Colombia to address the needs of children displaced by violence.

Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

Even before displacement, Colombian children attending school in high-risk areas face danger from land mines, attacks by armed groups and forced recruitment outside of schools. Once displaced, children often lose an entire academic year. In addition, the trauma of losing one's home and witnessing extreme violence often remain unaddressed, affecting the child's potential to learn. Increased poverty brought on by displacement usually means that children must work to help support the family, making school impossible.

UNHCR supports the government's response to the educational crisis of displaced children, which includes local interventions in high-risk areas, rebuilding damaged schools, providing school supplies and supporting local teachers' organizations. UNHCR consults with the Ministry of Education to ensure the needs of displaced children are known and planned for. It also focuses on the educational needs of ethnic minorities such as the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Education for Displaced Colombians

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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