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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid