Conflict, flooding and food insecurity have battered Mali over the past few years. Now, with a new president and prime minister in office, efforts are underway to help ensure peace and stability. That includes getting hundreds of thousands of Mali children back in school.
The new school year in Mali begins in October. The government and UNICEF – the U.N. Children’s Fund – have joined forces to launch a back to school campaign. The theme is Peace is Back and so is School.
UNICEF’s representative in Mali – Francoise Ackermans – said every effort needs to be made to make this school year much better than the last.
“You know, last year, many, many children – I’m talking about an estimation of 800,000 children – age school children – were affected by several crises: the crisis in the North with the jihadists, the nutritional crisis or floods. In the North, the ones that remained were displaced in other regions in the country. There were refugees in neighboring countries in Niger, Burkina Faso or Mauritania,” she said.
Access is still limited in parts of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Many of the schools lack basic necessities, like student benches.
She said, “Almost all the benches in the North have been burned out. We are talking about providing notebooks and pencils to the kids, but also to the teachers. We are training 9,000 teachers on psycho-social support. Children have been totally traumatized. We are talking about new issues like mine risk education because we have unexploded mines in the northern Region.”
Ackermans praised the Ministry of Education for taking the lead in the back to school campaign.
“It’s a nationwide intervention and we have to mobilize the communities and send the right messages. So it’s about communication and mobilization at the community level,” she said.
The campaign also includes providing proper sanitation and health care for the children, and even proper birth registration.
In southern Mali, students will begin the school year October 1st. In northern Mali, students, whose education was disrupted by the conflict, are in an accelerated learning program. That wraps-up in mid-November, after which they’ll begin the new school year.
Ackermans said that UNICEF needs $12 million for education in Mali. So far, though, there are pledges and commitments for only $4 million.
“An educated child is becoming a citizen of his own country and of the world. This is one of the basic rights of every child. This is in the constitution in Mali – that every single child has the right to free education, to free quality education. We are far from there. We have to commit ourselves to work together on that.”
Besides education efforts for children within Mali, the program extends to others who fled the country. There are about 43,000 children in refugee camps in neighboring countries.
“Education is about bringing normalcy in life. We all know that. My message through you is also an excellent opportunity to remind us that war has a high cost. Now we have to invest in priority sectors and education is one of them,” she said.
Ackermans called education the “cornerstone” of Mali’s reconstruction. She asked, “What’s a more visible sign of things going back to normal than a girl and a boy walking to school in the morning?”