Making Kawthar's Dream a Reality in Syria
Through an ECW-funded self-learning programme delivered by UNICEF in Syria, a 13-year-old girl with physical impairment attends school for the first time.
Kawthar didn’t see the inside of a classroom until she was 13 years old.
“I always wanted to be like all other children; to grab my bag and head to school; to read, write and learn,” she says.
Over the past several years, Kawthar and her family had to flee violence near their home in Al-Hasakeh city, Syria, and seek safety in other locations. In all, they were displaced five times. But that’s not the only reason Kawthar was out of school.
As a child who suffers from stunting, a physical impairment affecting one’s growth, Kawthar could not walk for long distances or extended periods of time. The nearest school was 20 kilometres away from Kawthar’s home, and her family could not afford the transport.
“I was teased by other children for the way I looked, so I would stay at home and help my mother with housework,” says Kawthar. Kawthar questioned whether after years of conflict, displacement and hardship, she would ever have the chance to go to school and start building a better future. But in 2019, she and her parents heard from relatives about a new, UNICEF self-learning programme for out-of-school children. Soon afterwards, Kawthar enrolled in grade 1 of the programme.
Kawthar recalls the moment that she heard about the programme. “I could not stop smiling. I knew then that my dream could become a reality,” says Kawthar.
UNICEF’s self-learning programme is designed to help out-of-school children catch up to their peers and eventually reintegrate into regular school. Instruction is delivered at four centres equipped with essential learning materials.
Since November 2020, the programme has reached some 2,600 children in the Al-Hasakeh governorate, including children with disabilities. More than 2,100 children were supported with transport between their homes and the centres.
Kawthar has studied hard and is doing well at school. This year, she completes Grade 3 of the self-learning programme. Her dream is to become a fashion designer.
Despite last year’s COVID-19 challenges, including disruptions to school attendance, Kawthar remains as excited as ever about continuing her education.
Contributed by UNICEF Syria
Young Mothers Continue Their Education in Chad
With funding from ECW, Jesuit Refugee Service is creating safe child care spaces in eastern Chad, so young mothers whose education was disrupted can return to school.
Sleeping on warm blankets, the babies don’t seem to notice the heat and laughter coming from the school playground outside. They have already sung songs, played and listened to tales inside the cozy shaded room. Their mothers – attending school nearby – might come by during the morning to feed them, before picking them up in the afternoon, when classes finish and it’s time to go home. Situated right beside the primary and secondary school in the Kounoungou refugee camp, in eastern Chad, the two-room nursery offers a safe space for babies and the chance of a better life for their young mothers. On any given school day, more than 40 babies will be dropped off in the morning by their mothers attending school or teaching at the school next door.
The Jesuit Refugee Service and UNHCR established the nursery, and others like it in Chad, in 2012 in response to thousands of girls in refugee and local communities who had to drop out of school due to early marriage and pregnancy.
Many of the young mothers in the Kounoungou camp are Sudanese, who fled conflict in Darfur. Some of them work as teachers at the schools. The nursery programme offers them child care and other supports, so they can finish their education.
Mourra, 22, dreams of becoming a doctor. She has lived in the camp for over 10 years and is in the fourth year of her high school studies. Mourra’s son was born in 2019. Without the support of the programme, Mourra would probably not have made it this far. “The nursery really helped me to continue my studies,” says Mourra. Aicha, 32, juggles teaching five hours a day at the school with her responsibilities as a mother of five. While at school she can breastfeed her son during the class break before returning to her students.
“The nursery helps me a lot since my mind is calm while I work,” says Aicha. “I leave my baby here and I am sure that he is safe and well cared for.”
Contributed by the Jesuit Refugee Service
Television Education in Mozambique
To support the continuity of learning during school closings, an ECW investment implemented by UNICEF is supporting television and radio education programmes in Mozambique.
School closings and movement restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult for millions of children to learn. Yet in Mozambique, Alzira Ngomane, 17, her brother Amilcar Ngomane, 14, and others like them are keeping up with their studies, thanks to Telescola da Televisão de Moçambique (TVM), an educational television programme.
“We missed our teachers. They were very friendly and helped us solve the harder exercises. But with the coronavirus, we needed to adapt and learn to solve our exercises alone at home,” say Alzira and Amilcar.
The siblings live in the Albazine district, in the city of Maputo. Alzira, a 12th-grader at Escola Secundária Eduardo Mondlane, dreams of being a civil engineer.
Every afternoon at 3 pm, they place their notebooks on the small wooden table in their living room and turn on the television to follow the 30-minute classes broadcast by TVM. Both recognize that it is not the same as being in a classroom with their colleagues and teachers. But it helps them keep up with some subjects and makes it easier to do their exercises.
“I try to maintain a routine while I’m at home: wake up and do my housework, then study and watch Telescola,” says Alzira. “Without Telescola, it would be difficult to understand the subjects and solve some exercises.”
Since the school closings, TVM has been broadcasting 1.5 to 2.5 hours of Telescola programming daily, on radio and television, to support the continuity of learning for children in primary and secondary education. ECW support includes programme translation into local languages and community radio broadcasts.
Constância Guiama is one of several teachers who accepted the challenge of teaching at Telescola. When schools shut down due to the coronavirus in 2020, she started using digital platforms to teach and support her students. For those students whose families cannot afford internet service, Telescola offers a practical solution. The experience, she says, has benefited both teachers and students.
Amilcar likes to draw and dreams of becoming an architect. “With the schools closed, Telescola is helping me to continue studying at home so that I can continue working to make my dream come true,” he says.
Contributed by Claudio Fauvrelle, UNICEF Mozambique
Keeping 15-year-old Jair in School in Ecuador
In Ecuador, 15-year-old Jair would have dropped out of school without an intervention on the part of his teacher, the support of a school counsellor – and a tablet donated thanks to ECW.
Jair, 15, spends much of his day building cardboard cars: ambulances, limousines, buses and trucks. The guadua cane walls of his room are hung with his creations.
“I have a dream of making real cars and being a mechanic. I want to support my family,” says Jair. “I know that I have to study, although sometimes it is not so easy.”
Human beings have different types of intelligence. Jair’s most developed intelligence is spatial. He can imagine and design two- and three-dimensional drawings and calculate volumes and measurements.
But Jair struggles with language. He needs extra help and support from his teachers and family so that he can learn to read and write. Jair’s mother, Mercedes, felt she could not help. “I can’t read and I have no way to support him with his homework,” she says. She thought about removing him from school.
Jair’s teacher saw that Jair needed reinforcement that went beyond his skills and abilities as a teacher. He contacted Liliana Palate, a school psychologist whose role is to provide emotional, social and psycho-educational support to students and their families who need it, or refer cases to specialized protection or mental health services.
When talking to the family, Liliana identified that Jair’s stepfather, Jhonny, knew how to read and write and could play a bigger role. She convinced Jair’s parents to keep him in school, and the whole family made a commitment to support Jair with his studies.
“We changed our mind because we want the best for our children,” says Mercedes.
Jhonny is now in charge of helping Jair with his homework. “I am committed to helping him. Sometimes it takes us longer than expected, but with patience, we manage to do the homework together,” he says.
Jair’s parents continue to seek out Liliana for guidance, and her support to the family has been steady. Liliana communicates with Jair and his mother through calls on WhatsApp, and occasional face-to-face visits to follow up on his progress.
Jhonny continues to take seriously his role helping Jair.
“I want to support him because I want him to have the opportunities that I couldn’t have,” he said.
Contributed by Ana Maria Castro, UNICEF Ecuador
Asma's Story in Ethiopia
ECW supports the work of local education authorities in getting IDP children back to school and providing them with a quality education.
Asma, 15, and her family were driven from their home in 2018 due to conflict in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. They lived in a camp for displaced persons for a year, then were relocated by the government to a host community in Tuliguled, in the Somali region.
Today, Asma is a grade 7 student at the Tuliguled Primary School, thanks to ECW-supported efforts in her community to return children to a protective school environment.
“Due to the conflict, three years of my life have passed without education,” she said. “Now I want to focus on my education.”
School officials in the Tuliguled woreda (district) have been working hard to get IDP children like Asma to resume their education. More than 40 per cent of the 24,000 school-aged children registered at five schools in Tuliguled are IDPs. A recent ‘back to school’ campaign managed to return more than 7,000 children to school.
Mohammed Ahmed is the director at the Tuliguled Primary School. He met with Asma’s parents and advised them several times to send their children to school. “As a father and teacher, I want to encourage girls like Asma to pursue their education,” he said.
Hawa, a PTA member, works closely with parents and teachers to ensure school-aged children attend school and have all the materials they need, including school uniforms, exercise books and pens. Girls receive ‘dignity kits’, so they don’t miss school when they have their periods.
In 2020 the programme supported psycho-social training for teachers working with children who remain affected by their experiences of hostilities and displacement, and in 2021 it introduced nutritious school meals. All activities are supported by ECW.
Asma wakes up every day at 6 am, prepares breakfast and fetches water before heading off to school at 8 am with her three younger siblings. Asma likes her school. She is active in her class and serves as a class representative for seventh grade. She wants to become a doctor.
Reflecting on her experiences, she added:
“I think peace and education are the most important things we need to achieve our dreams in life.”
Contributed by Emnet Dereje, Save the Children Ethiopia
Radio-Based Learning Gets its Day in the Sun in Mali
Through an ECW-financed programme implemented by UNICEF, solar-powered radios are helping conflict-affected children continue their learning during the COVID-19 crisis.
Persistent insecurity in central and northern Mali has disrupted access to education, health and other services and displaced more than 300,000 people – over half of them children. But COVID-19 compounded the problem.
Before the pandemic, direct threats and attacks on education had forced the closure of around 1,300 schools in the central and northern regions of the country. Pandemic-related measures shuttered schools, leaving many of the most vulnerable children without access to education.
Yet, thanks to efforts by ECW and its partners, children continue to learn in safety. In the Ségou region, the distribution of solar-powered radios is providing an educational lifeline for those who otherwise would have been cut off from classes.
Aichata, 15, attended school in rural Diabaly until it closed because of insecurity. Her family moved to the town of Ségou and enrolled her at the Adama Dagnon school. The school provided her with a solar-powered radio to allow her to continue learning outside regular school hours and make up for the education that she had missed.
“I could attend classes with this radio. It helped me catch up with my studies,” says Aichata.
Around 1,500 households have benefited from the radios, which are used by children who cannot attend classes in person and as an after-hours study resource.
Aichata tunes in to educational programming every Wednesday and Thursday evening with her friends so they can study together. “Before, I didn’t like grammar because I didn’t understand it and I found it difficult. But now I manage to get quite good marks,” she says.
The radios are distributed by UNICEF, an ECW grantee, and EduCo, an implementing partner. EduCo is responsible for identifying households that can benefit from a radio, and works closely with school management committees to distribute the radios and monitor the results.
Home visits and ‘listening groups’ supported by community volunteers – typically retired teachers – help keep students’ learning on track. ECW also supports temporary learning spaces at IDP sites.
Aichata says she now feels well-integrated into her new school. She aspires to become a school principal. Her dream is that every child in Mali will go to school.
“I know it’s ambitious,” says Aichata. “But I’m sure that one day my dream will come true.”
Contributed by Fatou Diagne, UNICEF Mali