Last week, three peacekeepers from the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were killed while patrolling a refugee camp in North Darfur. The incessant violence plaguing both Western Sudan and Eastern Chad has created dire living conditions and a bleak future for its inhabitants, the majority of whom are refugees or internally displaced persons living in a camp setting. In Chad, over 250,000 Darfuri refugees dwell in 12 camps after fleeing genocide and government violence in Western Sudan since 2003.
Schools and learning centers, which provide refugees with a basic education, are an aspect of camp life that offer hope to many families. This education empowers students to strive for better opportunities to change their lives. Although securing adequate funding for refugee camps is a constant struggle, the necessity of an educational system and by extension, learning resources, should not be overlooked. Furnishing refugee children with a primary education secures learning outlets for students to envision new ways to move their people, and their nation, forward.
Life in Chadian refugee camps is dangerous, demoralizing, and exhausting. The daily grind includes fortifying shelters, securing enough food and water for each family, and collecting firewood to cook. The risks associated with collecting firewood outside the camp walls often result in the rape and sexual exploitation of women by local militias. As this modus vivendi becomes the norm, it is easy to lose hope in favor of despair.
However, Darfuri residents of the camps in Eastern Chad are committed to forming active communities that emphasize learning as a vessel for future change. In fact, refugees have called for an increase in educational facilities and an improvement in educational services. The education students receive in camps is not only important for spreading optimism, but also offers students opportunities for advanced studies, travel abroad, and a professional future. Often, these students serve their country as promoters of reconstruction initiatives and developers of social services in the aftermath of conflict.
To address these concerns, UNHCR and affiliated NGOs have increased educational efforts in refugee camps in recent years. To highlight these efforts, all camps are now equipped to provide primary schooling. The international community is actively engaged in increasing access at the secondary level. In fact, an amalgamation of NGO’s and NBA Stars formed the Darfur Dream Team to link Darfuri students in Chad with American students across the United States for a cross-cultural exchange that fosters learning on both sides. Access to innovative learning proved beneficial in deterring students from joining armed militias as child soldiers.
Educational experiences within the camps have improved community life for students and parents alike, attempting to diminish the learning gap that many Darfuris will face once they return home or resettle and offering a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.
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