5 May 2011 – UNICEF’s Edward Bally reports on schools re-opening in post-crisis Côte d’Ivoire.
By Edward Bally
MAN, Côte d’Ivoire, 11 May 2011 – Ange Michel Kouakou, 13, is enjoying her first day back at school in Koumassi in the city of Abidjan. She’s only recently returned after escaping violence that hit her neighbourhood. For the last two months, she took shelter in her father’s village in eastern Côte d’Ivoire, where the situation was less tense.
Returning home, Ange found her house almost empty, her school books and belongings gone. Almost one million school children have suffered in the violent aftermath of last November’s disputed presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire.
So far, more than 700,000 children nationally have found their way back to class. But many schools remain closed, particularly in rural areas, and 200,000 children are still out of school.
In some places, tensions have yet to ease and children are afraid to return to school. “We’re waiting for the children, but they don’t feel safe,” explains Gabin Zerebi Touboui, Principal of Fengue School in Abobo, a suburb of Abidjan.
Mr. Touboui and his staff are ready to work with the few children who have already returned, and hope more students attend soon. “We’re trying to make them tell their parents that school has started back so that the word of mouth spreads.”
Getting back on track
To help children back into education, UNICEF has started distributing 500,000 school kits, each containing a school bag, books and pens. “Many children have been displaced and found their houses empty when they came home,” says Gilberte Yeble Amari, UNICEF Education Officer in Côte d’Ivoire. “Those kits are then the first step to help them gain confidence and get back on track until the end of the school year.”
UNICEF’s objective is to help a million children get back to school as soon as possible. In the west of the country, where villages were particularly affected by the crisis, 80 per cent of schools have been damaged. Many have been looted and most of them lack benches and tables, which were used as fire wood by fighters. Where school has started back, classrooms are now crowded.
In areas where students have returned, teachers are often in short supply. Michel Tehe Seroux is Director of the local school in the village of Bloleu in western Côte d’Ivoire. For the past month, he’s been teaching 200 children on his own. “The hardest is the start of the day,” he says. “I have six classes, it’s pretty exhausting, but children are very cooperative, they’re happy to be here and me too. But I really look forward to seeing my colleagues come back very soon.” Only one third of teachers have so far come back to the school.
Across the country, UNICEF is training and recruiting teachers, while working hard with communities to convince children and teachers to get back to school.