By Brigitte Stark-Merklein
YALOKE, Central African Republic, 13 May 2010 – Fatima Yadik, a mother of 12 and grandmother of 18, recently settled in the Central African Republic town of Yaloké after 60 years with her nomadic community. Her camp of Peuhl nomads was attacked by bandits who killed all the men and stole their cattle.
Peuhl people are often targeted by bandits because of the relative wealth of their livestock. Fleeing to safety, Ms. Yadik and her family joined the growing number of nomadic peoples across Africa’s interior who are escaping poverty and insecurity in the countryside in favour of life in towns and cities.
New ways of subsistence
The life of Ms. Yadik’s family used to revolve around raising and moving their large herd of long-horn cattle. After the bandits attacked, the surviving women came to Yaloké in search of safety and new ways of subsistence.
Since settling in the town, the family has been getting by selling wood. But Ms. Yadik said she realizes that there is not much future for the children doing this. “Until now, none of the children have gone to school,” she said. “But now we no longer have cattle, they will have to find a job. They need to go to school to prepare.”
The people of Yaloké welcomed the Yadiks and hundreds of other displaced women and children, but they are facing problems of their own. Here, as in most parts of the country, basic services are few and far between. There are only 125 primary schools for the estimated 100,000 school-aged children in the prefecture, or district – less than half of whom are enrolled in primary school.
Enrolment rates are even lower for the thousands of Peuhl children living in the area.
A community mobilizes
Years of conflict and violence have destroyed an already fragile education system in CAR, where primary enrolment rates have not improved in 15 years. Many school buildings have been looted or destroyed, and qualified teachers have left for the safety of Bangui, the capital. In addition, the national government spends less than 1.5 per cent of its gross domestic product on education, which is below the African continent’s average.
As a result, nearly half of all primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school. Girls in particular are victims of ongoing discrimination that denies their right to go to school.
To help children attend school in this challenging environment, a group of Peuhl parents has formed a small non-governmental organization called Association Mboscuda. With the help of other parents, they built the Fraternité school in Yaloké, which welcomes Peuhl orphans and children from other vulnerable groups.
Mboscuda helps pay the salaries of teachers and runs campaigns to convince Peuhl parents to send their children, especially girls, to school.
The value of education
Fraternité School serves over 630 students. Makeshift benches crafted from small tree trunks are the school’s only furniture, and until recently, there were no learning materials. UNICEF is helping to provide books and other educational supplies, and to support school enrolment campaigns. In a second phase, UNICEF will also help to improve the school infrastructure.
Working in both conflict-affected areas in the country’s north and poor – but more stable – areas of the south, UNICEF is responding to the education crisis by rehabilitating and building schools, latrines and water points. It also helps to train teachers, provides textbooks and school kits, and promotes a ‘child-friendly’ approach to schools – which centres around the rights of each child.
Moumini, a father of 12, lives in a Peuhl camp 15 km outside Yaloké. Like Ms. Yadik, he and his family were forced to settle down after fleeing violence in the north. He also sells wood to get by. But he said that none of his children go to school.
“I have no money to enrol them,” said Moumini. A family member added that many children like Moumini’s are afraid of new people, including teachers.
Association Mboscuda is working to convince many Peuhl parents of the value of formal education for their children. If it succeeds, it will be closer to the goal of enrolling all primary school-aged children in Yaloké and providing them with a life-changing education.