Sudanese mother joins her own children in class

After fleeing war in Sudan's Darfur region, Hosna was determined her children would have an education and she wanted to be part of it.

Sudanese refugee Hosna Idris Abdallah, in black, attends an English class with her daughter Khadija,15, centre in white headscarf.
© UNHCR/Oualid Khelifi

The life of Hosna Idris Abdallah has been marked by violence, hunger and poverty. However, she has never given up on herself or her children, and has never lost her desire to keep learning.

At home in the Darfur region of Sudan, Hosna’s family were farmers and herders. Like every other young woman she knew, she got married and had a family. Then war broke out and armed men raided her village. They killed five men from her family, including her husband.

That day, Hosna gathered her children up and her belongings and left home. After arriving in Chad in 2003, she remarried and had two more children. After her second husband divorced her, she was left to raise them alone.

Hosna, her five children and one grandchild now live in a refugee camp near the Chadian town of Goz Beida. At first, they struggled to find food, clothing and shelter but, as aid arrived and their lives stabilized, Hosna began to look to the future. “I realized it was important for my children to get an education,” she says. “They have no father. They only thing they have for their future is education.”

Sudanese refugee Hosna Idris Abdallah never gave up her desire to learn.

The thought struck her that she wanted to be a part of it. “Back home in Darfur no one ever thought about taking me to school. I decided to go because I had never had the opportunity.”

“People find it strange that I go to school with my children … but I will never give up.”

Fitting in an education as well as providing for her children has been difficult. Hosna, 37, gets her children up early and all go to collect firewood, which they can sell for food.

“I have to take them to school after work,” says Hosna. “I have only a few hours to make sure I make enough money to feed all of them.” She also looks for odd jobs in the market but says that, as a single mother, she often gets paid less than she should.

Life in the classroom has also been tough. Hosna is by far the oldest – indeed, she started in kindergarten along with her youngest children. “The first time I went to school, even my own children were laughing at me.”

It took several attempts to pass her first exams and a long time to reach the end of primary school. However, she made it into secondary school, which she attends with her daughter, Khadija, 15. They are in the same classes and help each other with their homework.

“People find it strange that I go to school with my children. Some say, ‘your life is already hard enough without doing this to yourself – better to give up and stay at home and look after your children.’ But I will never give up.”

See UNHCR's 2017 report on refugee education, Left Behind: Refugee Education in Crisis.