By Daniel Dickinson
BOCARANGA, Central African Republic, 31 December 2009 – After years of conflict in the rural north of Central African Republic, dozens of simple ‘bush schools’ are helping many children displaced by the fighting to return to full-time education. For many, it is the only chance they have to study.
It may not look like much, the rickety wooden structure with a thatched roof and open sides, but for its 70 pupils, the Martin Luther school in in the dusty scrubland of Bocaranga – in the far north-west corner of the Central African Republic – offers the best possibility to move forward following years of conflict.
Listen to Podcast in RealMedia
Listen to the Podcast in MP3 format
“Both my parents died, so I need to study hard at school to improve my life,” says Leonard, 10, one of the pupils who attends this bush school.
Sporting a red football shirt, he is eager to learn and enthusiastically shouts out the drills called by his teacher.
A huge need
The school is extremely basic and one of around 25 schools in this impoverished part of CAR. Many of the pupils attending these schools were forced to flee their homes due to the conflict between rebel groups and government forces, and are now living in informal settlements around towns like Bocaranga.
Ms. Poukou is one of around a hundred such trained parents – called ‘maître parents’ – in the area, complimented by only seven fully qualified teachers that have been provided by the Government. The harsh living conditions, the remoteness of Bocaranga and the huge needs of the local population make it difficult to attract teachers here.
“I do this for the children,” says Ms. Poukou. “It is a difficult job; I get little money and I suffer a lot teaching 70 children every day.”
A positive step
The bush schools in Bocaranga have been set up by UNICEF and are funded by a contribution of approximately $2 million from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). In total, 800 schools across CAR have been funded and over 2000 maître parents trained.
“The violence and insecurity in northern CAR have led to more than 110,000 people being displaced in the bush without access to basic services,” said Muriel Cornelis, the Head of the ECHO office in CAR.
“In an emergency situation, a school provides more than just somewhere for the children to study,” she added. “It also often provides access to safe drinking water, healthcare and protection. For many of the children attending bush schools this is a positive step towards a normal life.”