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Educating girls to re-build communities

“Educating a girl is educating a community.” This is a key message in the awareness-raising campaign run by Rachel.

Rachel is a South Sudanese refugee living in Ethiopia and an advocate for the education of girls, as one of the four primary head teachers in the Nguenyiel refugee camp.

In 2017, she and her two children arrived in Gambella, western Ethiopia, to escape the conflict in South Sudan. Forced to flee their homes due to persecution, or violence, millions of refugees left the country in search of safety on the other side of the border.

A crisis within a crisis

Upon their arrival, Rachel and her children were moved to the Nguenyiel camp. Over 60% of the new arrivals were children, most of them suffering from psychological distress due to the displacement, and separation from their families.

Rachel attending teacher’s education and health science college in Gambella, as part of the professional development programme.
Rachel attending teacher’s education and health science college in Gambella, as part of the professional development programme © Plan International

Infrastructure set up to support refugees are often designed to be temporary, with the primary focus being to ensure that basic needs are met. Thus, in refugee settlements, education is often under resourced.

In the Nguenyiel camp, despite the fact that most children are of school age, there is a lack of learning spaces, school supplies and teaching staff, meaning that access to education is limited, with girls more likely to be excluded from schooling and to face exploitative practices.

Quality education for children, youth and teachers

To address this situation and the challenges faced by both girls and boys, Plan International is working together with local communities to implement several education and protection activities under the project ‘Safe and quality education for girls and boys in displacement situations’ in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Teachers participating in a professional development programme.
Teachers participating in a professional development programme © Plan International

The project is funded by the European Union, and it is implemented by Plan International, together with Relief International, the University of Sussex, Gambella University and the Peace and Development Research Centre. The initiative is part of the Building Resilience in Crises through Education (BRiCE) programme, which aims to support the education of children in fragile contexts.

The activities carried out under the project include classroom rehabilitation, remedial classes for girls and Community Learning Hubs offering adults literacy and numeracy courses. Refugee teachers can access a professional development programme, focusing on inclusive and gender responsive pedagogy and psychosocial support. Various workshops and trainings are organised for school management staff, teachers, parent-teacher-student-associations, and members of community education committees.

The work goes beyond addressing ‘symptoms’ of gender inequality, it explicitly tackles its root causes, particularly unequal gender power relations, and discriminatory social norms, structures and policies. Drawing on her personal experience, Rachel shares that the education she received helped her “escape from a lot of violence in life”.

Rachel taking notes in a school classroom.
Rachel taking notes in a school classroom © Plan International

Looking to the future

Thanks to the project an increased number of students enrol in and graduate from schools, teachers demonstrate greater awareness of inclusive and gender-responsive practices, and communities express high levels of satisfaction with the quality of learning.

Additionally, the project actively promotes peaceful coexistence between refugees and host communities, with all activities being offered to both to increase cohesion.

Plan International, together with its partners, also collects and evaluates data so that the results of the project are long lasting and can be replicated in the future. Children’s needs are analysed, and the findings are shared with governments to ensure quality education for refugees. Given the opportunity to grow through education, there is the potential within each refugee to bring positive change and rebuild their lives and communities.

Teachers outside a school in Gambella.
Teachers outside a school in Gambella © Plan International