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School project in Darfur helps to build bridges between communities


School project in Darfur helps to build bridges between communities

UNHCR funds the construction of new classrooms in a West Darfur district and at the same time helps to build bonds between different ethnic groups.
28 January 2010
Children from mixed ethnic groups gather outside the new classes in the primary school at Fasei.

FASEI, Sudan, January 28 (UNHCR) - Thanks to funding from the UN refugee agency, hundreds of primary schoolchildren in Sudan's volatile West Darfur state no longer have to study in the open. At the same time, UNHCR is helping to form bonds between different ethnic groups and avoid conflict in an area where hundreds of thousands of people have been forcibly displaced in recent years.

The primary school in Fasei village provides an education for almost 900 pupils (500 boys and 400 girls). These children include African and Arabs who live in peaceful coexistence and have not suffered the pain of forced displacement, which has disrupted village life in other parts of Darfur.

But the number of schoolchildren has grown and some of the youngsters had to study outside under plastic sheeting. Following a request for help from local elders, UNHCR agreed last year to finance the construction of new classrooms using environmentally friendly building materials.

The work was carried out by UNHCR implementing partner, the Danish Refugee Council, which built eight new classrooms in a striking looking structure. The classrooms were constructed using stabilized soil blocks.

"The beauty of this school construction is that it is in an area of mixed [ethnic] groups," noted Ken Riebe, a UNHCR protection officer based in the nearby town of Zalingei. "Different tribes live in the area, African and Arab, and all groups are benefitting from the school, thus promoting their peaceful coexistence, meaning that less people are displaced," he added.

Inter-ethnic conflict in Western Darfur since 2003, has forced some 2.5 million civilians to flee their villages and find shelter elsewhere in the state and about 250,000 to flee into neighbouring Chad.

The new, enlarged school in Fasei was recently handed over to the community in a colourful ceremony attended by members of all communities, senior local government officials and aid workers, including UNHCR staff.

The children were clearly delighted with the facility. "I am very happy that the new classes have been built," said 13-year-old Mohamed. But he and others hoped that education in the district would get a further boost.

"Soon I will finish primary school and I will have to go to Zalingei for secondary school," he noted, while adding: "I would like to ask for a secondary school to be built in Fasei."

That is something that UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council support as part of a policy of promoting and facilitating the peaceful coexistence of different tribes in rural areas of West Darfur and other parts of the Sudan.

By Hamed Barekzai in Fasei, Sudan