News / Africa

    UN Helps Refugee Children Stay in School in Senegal

    Students at Thiabakh elementary school sit in the classroom at Ndioum refugee camp in Ndioum, Senegal, November 2011.
    Students at Thiabakh elementary school sit in the classroom at Ndioum refugee camp in Ndioum, Senegal, November 2011.
    Amanda Fortier

    In Senegal’s northern Fouta region, the United Nations is helping thousands of Mauritanian refugee children continue their education. There are many economic and cultural challenges to staying in school while one is a refugee.

    It is late afternoon at the Ndioum refugee camp, 500 kilometers northeast of Dakar. A few dozen Mauritanians have gathered after prayer to discuss new income-generating activities with members of the UN Refugee Agency.

    Sitting quietly among this group of elderly men and women is Oumar Alassane Ba, a tall, lanky 16-year-old who is sporting a Chelsea football jersey and basketball shorts. Oumar is a Senegalese-born, Mauritanian refugee. He is the top student at his community high school and was named best overall student in the region.

    Oumar said education for him is very important, because even though he is a student today, in the future he will be a father. His own father had to drop out of school, because of poverty, and he does not want this to happen to his own children.

    Sixteen-year-old Oumar Alassane Ba is a Senegalese-born, Mauritanian refugee, who is the top student at his community high school and was named best overall student in the region, in Ndioum, Senegal, November 2011.
    Sixteen-year-old Oumar Alassane Ba is a Senegalese-born, Mauritanian refugee, who is the top student at his community high school and was named best overall student in the region, in Ndioum, Senegal, November 2011.


    Challenges, opportunities for refugee students

    Oumar is part of a new generation of refugees - a group who were born, schooled and, in some fortunate cases, financially supported in Senegal’s French school system.

    The first group of refugee students arrived in 1989 among more than 60,000 Mauritanians who fled to Senegal following ethnic clashes. Many students arrived with little hope of continuing their studies.

    Aboubakary Diack is a 43-year-old Mauritanian refugee and regional director for the US aid organization, Tostan, in Senegal’s northern city Matam. He was deported from his hometown of Kaedi in Mauritania, in June 1989, just a week before high school graduation. He arrived alone in Senegal without his family or his papers.

    Diack said in the beginning he thought of nothing else but how to get home. He did not want to finish his studies in Senegal, because he did not understand French. Then he got an academic scholarship from the UN refugee agency. But the Senegalese government initially refused to recognize his previous schoolwork, because it was done in Mauritania’s Arabic school system.

    Addressing issues to help students

    The problem of different school systems has since been addressed, according to Marie-Aimee Mabita, Senior Regional Officer for UN refugee agency community services in West Africa.

    Mabita said that they have helped put in place Arabic classes in schools in Senegal to help students integrate here, and French classes in Mauritanian schools, for those students returning home.

    The UN refugee agency spends slightly more than 15% of its $1.4 million annual budget on education, including scholarships, rehabilitation projects and school materials here.

    A couple hours drive from the Ndioum refugee camp is another site known as Thiabakh, in one of the poorest parts of the region. Here, at the three-room elementary school, boys and girls sit on small wooden benches reciting their French lesson. Two hundred and forty students are registered here - 60 are from refugee families.

    Mamadou Ba is the school principle and one of three full-time teachers. He said some of the refugee families have four or five children at the school and the majority have money troubles, which is obvious from their clothes or lack of school material. Ba said kids are very sensitive to this, and to help ease the situation some of the teachers, including himself, have discretely given money to help them out.

    According to the UN Refugee Convention, which Senegal has ratified, all children are guaranteed the same right to free primary school education, regardless of nationality, race or religion. In areas where a majority still lives off a couple dollars a day, however, the extra costs for food, clothes and even transportation make accessing and then continuing school very difficult.

    Tackling inequities to better educate

    Mabita said that while Senegal offers some of the best educational support in West Africa, in terms of infrastructure and teachers, there are still many areas in the Fouta region where the UN has had to help build and restructure schools. This is absolutely necessary, Mabita said, because education is an important way of helping young people integrate.

    At a cultural level, the integration between Mauritanian refugees and local Senegalese has been relatively smooth. This is a result, many explain, of their shared Pulaar ethnicity. But within the Peul community, there are still some deeply engrained cultural and social traditions - some of which go against educational priorities.

    Mabita said the formal education schools in Senegal have a lot of competition with the daaras, or Koranic schools, which many refugee children attend for religious reasons. The problem is these schools do not meet our standards of education. So when these young boys become adults, they are not able to properly function in society.

    Mabita said the other issue is early marriage of young girls, which the UN is trying to address by giving girls preference over boys for scholarships and by educating the parents.

    Back at the Ndioum camp, Oumar Alassane Ba stands tall before a group of young onlookers, the majority still in primary school. He admits he is lucky to have parents who pushed him to succeed. One day, he said, he dreams of becoming a physical chemist and to make his father proud.



    You May Like

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora