Learning to be a leader, one task at a time

Sixteen-year old Farihalh hardly misses school despite her numerous daily chores. Farihalh wants to become "Minister of Darfur", the region she and her family escaped in 2004.   © UNHCR/H.Caux

DJABAL CAMP, Chad - "I want to become a minister, Minister of Darfur." At 16 years of age, Farihalh makes it clear she has the ambition and will to be more than a refugee. Like most of her current classmates, she did not have the chance to go to school back in her village in western Sudan's Darfur region. She is now very motivated to attend classes in Djabal, one of 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

"I like going to school because I want to learn, I want to become someone with responsibilities," she says. Her favourite classes are Mathematics, Arabic, English and Islamic Education. "I have missed school perhaps once, because I was sick. Otherwise, I never miss classes."

Her perfect attendance is quite amazing, considering how much she has to do outside school. "At 7 in the morning, I go and fetch water. Then I make breakfast for my parents and my sisters and brothers." At 8 am, the lively Farihalh goes to school before coming home to prepare lunch. Sometimes, she has to go to the camp's outskirts to collect firewood - always accompanied by other girlfriends, for fear of being attacked if she were alone. At 4 pm, she goes for Arabic classes, then comes back to prepare dinner for her family.

In a way, Farihalh is lucky: Her parents - Dad is a tailor while Mum is a homemaker - let her go to school, and have not forced her to get married. In the community, many girls marry as soon as they reach 12 or 13, and immediately stop attending classes - at the request of their husbands but also due to the ever-growing list of chores at home. Farihalh also knows of girls who drop out of school to work as maids or restaurant help in town. Other children have to help their parents sell things at the market, missing classes in the process.

Boys and young men face different problems - they can easily be recruited by various armed groups operating in the area. Farihalh's two younger brothers go to school but she is afraid they could be recruited when they grow older.

Like most Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad, Farihalh longs to go back home. "But at present, in these conditions, I cannot go back to Darfur," she says. "I prefer to stay here and continue to learn. The day peace returns to Darfur, I will go back and continue my studies."

While her ambition knows no limits, the task-driven teenager is constrained by structural limitations in the camp, which offers only primary education up to 8th grade. She hopes that a secondary school programme will soon be available in Djabal so that she can work towards becoming "Minister of Darfur".