Ei-iE

A refugee teacher in Darfur, by Jean-Claude Badoux

published 31 May 2006 updated 31 May 2006

To the east of Chad around a dozen camps are spread over an area of extremely dry land, 60 km wide and 400 km long, exposed to the sandstorms. 240,000 people from different ethnic groups have arrived here from Darfur, Sudan, since 2003. The arrival of refugees continues steadily due to the violent acts carried out daily by the pro-government Sudanese militia.

Despite the extreme climatic conditions, the general insecurity and the remoteness of the camps (they are located 20 hours by car from Chad’s capital), classes are organised using voluntary teachers. A rudimentary education, due to the circumstances Throughout the lessons in the sweltering tents – the outside temperature borders on 40°C – the pupils, enthralled, give their complete attention to the teacher. She repeats the same Arabic sentences with conviction, before the class join in, in unison. The teacher-pupil relationship here is a strong one, even if the teaching methods used, based on repetition, are far from convincing. Madame Fatimé stands in the centre of a group of around a hundred under-five year olds. It is the elocution lesson. In a loud voice, she articulates a phrase in Arabic, which the children repeat five or six times: “Good morning,” “How do you do?” I admire her enthusiasm and charisma. A primary school teacher forced to flee, Madame Fatimé opened this school five months ago, because “it interested her”. She is in charge of 109 children from the nearest tents. In Darfur, after having completing her own primary education, Madame Fatimé was given a short period of teacher training. After teaching for a few years, she had to flee to Chad with her three children. With no news of her husband, who was a livestock farmer, she does not know whether or not he is still alive. She is occasionally able to communicate with her parents, who remained in the country, thanks to messages carried by the Red Cross. She hopes we will be able to erect a tent to shelter her pupils from the wind and sun and provide a ball for their games. This woman gives me an impression of great sadness, but she seems driven by a desire to cope for the sake of her three children. The poor take in the poorer The inflow of refugees continues and this creates disputes with the Chad populations of neighbouring villages, who witness their modest resources being used up by the newcomers – water, firewood, grazing areas – while those same refugees receive food, shelter, medical care and education from international aid organisations. All things considered, the refugees lead a better life than the local inhabitants. The aid organisations have therefore begun to give part of the aid to the inhabitants of the neighbouring Chad villages. But the ground water is close to drying up, which means the future of the camps is uncertain. Working in these camps fills you with an overwhelming sense of tragedy, and yet this situation receives only sporadic media coverage. Picture a quarter of a million people – mainly women and children, as the men often disappear in battle - packed into vast camps, sheltering in thousands of tents. Stripped of their possessions (their villages were burnt down), they remain without news of those they have left behind in Sudan, without plans for the future; they are helped, admittedly, by humanitarian organisations, but having lost their dignity and freedom, their only fault is not being the dominant ethnic group of Darfur. Model Teachers I cannot conclude without expressing my deep admiration for these Sudanese teachers who, in such difficult conditions, continue to carry out their work almost unpaid. They educate with the limited means available to them in the hope that these children will one day achieve something more in life. ________________ Jean-Claude Badoux, former teacher and editor of the Swiss union magazine SER, now retired, worked voluntarily for two months in the refugee camps of Darfur, in order to contribute to the schooling of the Sudanese refugee children.