Darfur Refugee Teachers Prepare Young Children for the Future
Fleeing the violence in Sudan's Darfur region in 2004, Abdul Madjita and his daughter, Bardou, lost their loved ones, homes, and the vast majority of their possessions as they sought refuge across the border in neighboring Chad. But they did not lose their commitment to education. For many years in Sudan, they worked side by side in the preschool system in their home village. And last summer, within months after adjusting to their new and difficult life in the IRC-managed Oure Cassoni refugee camp in northeastern Chad, they became actively involved in helping IRC launch a new preschool program for 4,800 young refugees.
Today, Abdul Madjita is the preschool coordinator for all 19 schools across the camp, and Bardou is one of over 40 trained animators, or instructors.
Bardou, who likens her role as animator to a second mother to the children, has more than five years' experience in teaching preschool classes in Darfur. She is enthusiastic yet realistic in assessing her challenging new role in the camp.
Crying children who miss their mothers, diarrhea, quarrelling these are the difficulties we face every day, she says.
Discipline is also a challenge, and the animators employ tactics such as loud clapping and whistling to manage their classrooms.
Usually one teacher provides instruction while the other controls the crowd of children, explains Bardou.
With more than 20 years' experience in primary schools, and 15 years' in preschools in Sudan, Abdul Madjita plays a pivotal role in IRC's preschool program. A reserved but amiable man, he makes daily visits to every preschool and holds weekly meetings with animators to discuss the numerous challenges of their job, providing guidance on how to be effective instructors. He emphasizes the need to maintain accurate and consistent attendance records and to alert IRC child protection staff if they notice that a child has missed more than one day of school.
With the help of Abdul Madjita, the IRC screened numerous applicants for animator positions. Those selected participated in a training held by UNICEF and the Chadian Ministry of Social Action and the Family in early June. The IRC is currently developing plans for additional trainings, utilizing a comprehensive teaching methodology book brought by Abdul Madjita from Darfur.
Unlike in Darfur, where preschools are typically sturdy, brick structures, the preschools in Oure Cassoni refugee camp are simple constructions made of plastic sheeting and timber. But they are strong and withstand frequent sandstorms that whip into a furry within minutes and can last for hours or days. Blackboards, plastic mats, a table and two chairs, slates, notebooks, and water basins for hand-washing complete the sparse but functional furnishings. Toys and games have proved difficult to locate in Chad, but a shipment finally arrived last month.
Preschool classes are held six days per week and activities include singing and rhymes, dancing and art, as well as instruction on numbers and the Arabic and English alphabets.
The IRC hopes not only to provide a safe place for children to play, but also to prepare the students to attend one of three primary schools in the camp, where they will study the Sudanese curriculum from grades 1-8.
The IRC, in consultation with the refugee community, decided to locate the preschools nestled within the community, as opposed to locating them in one central location.
We are bringing education close to the home so that parents feel safe about sending their young children to class, explains Abdul Summit.
The safety of the children is of paramount concern: The IRC has hired 60 pre-school guards, a majority of whom are women, to provide protection to the children during the day, and to safeguard the supplies overnight. At the end of every day, the animators and the guards escort the children home if their parents are unable to do so.
The refugee community is overwhelmingly supportive of the preschool project. This comes as no surprise to Abdul Summit.
In Sudan, education is most important, and children must attend preschool for three years to get a certificate for primary schools. This is the first step toward the future.