By Miriam Mareso
Halima, a shy 11-year-old, is among the first groups of children who have been enrolled in a new elementary school in Jengerjiba. A small village located 110 kilometres from the capital Asmara, Jengerjiba is dotted with mud huts and concrete houses. The closest primary school is more than 10 kilometres away, a distance which has long hampered access to primary education for many local children.
UNICEF, working with the Eritrean Ministry of Education, has given children in Jengerjiba a chance at an education. In 2005, the two organizations pooled resources to create Complementary Elementary Education (CEE), an initiative that reaches out to children who have been neglected by the existing formal school system for a variety of reasons.
CEE has supported the construction of the small elementary education centre in the village where Halima and her siblings now take classes.
Based on a three-year educational cycle, CEE provides out-of-school children with basic competencies that Eritrean school children acquire in the five-year mainstream elementary curriculum. A locally-led practical response to educational shortcomings in the region, the programme has since expanded to other districts.
CEE is currently bringing education to over 5,000 girls and boys in more than 70 centres in remote villages such as Jengerjiba. The programme also encourages the participation of local communities in their own development processes.
Hopes and ambitions
Unlike her older brothers and sisters, who at her age had no education opportunities in the village, Halima only needs to walk a few hundred metres to reach the school, where students are taught basic literacy and numerical skills, as well as classes in their native languages, English and science. Perhaps most importantly, the children are learning to articulate hopes and ambitions that stretch beyond the modest centre and its stone walls.
“We hope to complete our education, teach our families and one day become doctors,” Halima says with a timid smile.
Successful completion of the programme will allow Halima and her friends to be integrated into the formal education system at the post-primary level. In 2008, the first 19 graduates from the programme in the Northern Red Sea region were mainstreamed into formal secondary schools.
A hopeful path
CEE is supporting the first steps of these girls along a hopeful path that will empower their futures as literate women and skilled professionals. By 2009, UNICEF plans to supply the schools with benches and educational materials.
As one of the village elders points out, the school has become ‘a gateway from darkness’ for the community: “We established this school thanks to the support we received from UNICEF. We expect to see it grow and host a bigger number of students, because lack of education makes people blind.”