Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
10 May 2013: This year's Child and Youth Finance International (CYFI) summit was bigger and bolder than ever. Held in the Turkish capital, Istanbul, where West meets East with a flourishing financial sector, it attracted over 400 delegates from some 102 countries, many of them youth and child representatives and beneficiaries of the range of financial education initiatives the movement supports.
Plan was well represented with delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, USA and Canada. It was a pleasure to meet them and learn more about our work - they are full of energy and commitment and recognised for their innovation.
Our work was showcased and praised in numerous sessions. As a founder member of CFYI, Plan has been in the forefront of leading the charge to improve financial education, starting in many cases at primary school and working increasingly with older children and youth.
Money managing skills
CYFI is the brainchild of child finance guru, Jeroo Billimora, and in its short life of around 3 years has built a social movement of government, finance professionals, non-governmental organisations, education specialists, and entrepreneurs to fight for the inclusion and advancement of money managing skills in schools and other training programmes.
It is also fostering the need for training in schools and colleges to enable young people to start up small and medium sized businesses - many to be run by young entrepreneurs.
One of the youth delegates addressing the summit was Rosita, 17, from Chalatenango in El Salvador. She was accompanied by Nadia Escobar, the social marketing specialist from the Plan team, and together they briefed me and the audience on the value of schools savings and finance education.
Rosita is one of around 75 children and young people in her school benefiting from regular coaching on money management and developing skills to start a small business.
This work is using tried and trusted techniques developed by the pioneering civil society organisation, Alflatoun*, with which Plan works in many countries. Alflatoun in turn is a key player in the CYFI movement.
Investing in dreams
Rosita told me how the programme had given her access to banking and more. She said: "It taught me the value of money. And the effort you have to put in to earn and then save it. Financial planning and saving is a vital tool for me if my dreams are to come true."
Rosita explained that Chalatenango is a poor part of El Salvador, some 2 hours drive from the capital, San Salvador. But there are opportunities for industries which cater for tourists as well as developing leisure-based goods, such as making handicrafts.
She is thinking of starting a greetings card business as she has talent as a designer and painter. She also wants to train as a teacher.
"My training at school is helping me think how to create my own business. I am feeling more confident about doing this after being part of Plan's programmes," she said. "It only takes a few hours of time a week in the curriculum to do this."
I also met other youth and child delegates from Plan Thailand and Plan Norway, all of whom were shortlisted for prizes at the annual awards ceremony.
With opportunities being constricted for so many young people and the resulting jobs deficit, it is good to see Plan being recognised for its work scaling up financial and business literacy, and a pleasure to meet with such persuasive ambassadors for our programme on the global stage.
Learn about Plan’s global economic security work
Find out more about the Child and Youth Finance International summit*
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
A call to action to promote gender equality in education
7 May 2013: No country should be left behind in ensuring gender equality in education, reflect UNGEI’s Nora Fyles, Plan’s Yona Nestel and the Global Partnership for Education’s Koli Banik, following the recent global education summit.
What are key challenges that prevent gender equality in education? What evidence do we need to make an investment case for girls’ education and gender equality – at the global and national level? What actions should be taken now to accelerate progress in the 1,000 days left to the Millennium Development Goals deadline?
These were some of the questions discussed at the ‘gender equality in education’ roundtable held during the recent Learning for All Ministerial Meetings* in Washington DC, USA. The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative* (UNGEI) and Plan International convened gender and girls’ education experts to discuss the emerging trends and challenges in girls’ education, progress made to date, and the necessary actions needed to achieve gender equity and equality in education in the run-up to the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals* and beyond.
Trends and gaps
Nora Fyles, Head of the UNGEI secretariat, set the stage by assessing the trends and gaps in girls’ education in the 8 countries that participated in the Learning for All Ministerial Meeting: Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
“These countries have general strategies and/or policies in place on gender equality, and in most cases these include an education-specific policy on gender. But only a few of these countries have specific policies on girls’ education,” Fyles said.
Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Sudan, for example, either have a policy or commitment on girls’ education planned or ‘in progress’. But there is insufficient evidence in terms of implementation of these policy commitments, and little if any reference on how these strategies will be funded.
Gender parity versus equality
In many of these countries, specific objectives for achieving gender equality were missing entirely from education sector plans. In others, a narrow and unambitious articulation of gender equity goals meant issues of quality were falling off the track. It shouldn’t be a choice between parity and equality.
Christine Beggs, Senior Education Advisor at USAID, commented that one has to look beyond gender parity. “There is a need to examine gender equality, education opportunities, and learning outcomes. Also, what is enough? What should the global ask be?
“Is getting girls through lower secondary school enough, or should we be targeting secondary school completion and viable economic opportunities?”
Getting girls into secondary school and having them complete it is an issue in all of the 8 countries, except Bangladesh. There has been a successful expansion of primary education for girls. But a significant gender gap persists in secondary enrolment. In most countries, the transition between primary and secondary school sees girls’ enrolment drop sharply. Specific barriers, especially relevant to girls in the age and stage of adolescence are the biggest challenges to gender equality.
Barriers to adolescent girls
School-related barriers faced by girls identified by the 8 countries are common across the developing world. These include fees and other direct costs, gender-based violence in and around the school, distance to schools, and the lack of trained female teachers.
Other barriers have a direct impact on girls’ access to school and achievement in school lie outside of the school and the education system. Poverty, for example, remains the primary reason why girls drop out of school. Girls from minority language groups, living in remote areas and girls with disabilities are also excluded in these countries as in many others.
Early and forced marriage was also seen to be a particular issue with strong links to girls’ continued participation in school. In order to ensure girls succeed in school, these barriers need to be addressed through comprehensive, well-funded, policies and strategies. These strategies then need to be integrated into country education sector plans.
For example, financial incentives for girls to attend and stay in schools have proven successful in many countries. Building new schools to reduce distance, improving toilet facilities, and sensitising the larger community are other strategies that have shown to be effective.
Sumaya Saluja, a Youth Advocate with the Global Education First Youth Advocacy Group added that, “There is evidence on the positive impact that comprehensive sexuality education has in engaging boys, empowering girls and raising awareness on issues of gender-based violence, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy.”
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that education is truly gender transformative. Gender sensitive curricula and pedagogy and a focus on 21st century skills that support girls’ economic, social and civic aspirations are necessary,” said Yona Nestel, Senior Education Advisor at Plan International Canada.
Call to Action
The that was issued after the meeting puts forward a new standard for girls’ education, including a minimum of 1 year of early childhood education and a minimum of 9 years of primary and lower secondary school with opportunities for life-long learning.
It calls for strategic efforts to combat gender-based violence including early and forced marriage and other forms of abuse faced by girls. The Call to Action also requested that the Special Envoy support the UNGEI and the Global Partnership for Education, with their partners, in working together to create a platform for advancing girls’ education.
No country should be left behind - the new standard is all girls learning and achieving in a safe and supportive learning environment.
Learn about Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign for girls’ education
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
24 April 2013: My interest in public health and malaria dates back to the 1990s, when an economic crisis struck my country, Cameroon. People did not have enough money to buy medicines for their children, and I watched babies die in their parents’ arms from malaria, a disease so easy to prevent.
In 2011, Plan Cameroon hired me as Global Fund Round 9 Malaria Project Manager: My dream to work with communities and make a direct impact came true.
Losing my nephew
How much people underestimate malaria and its consequences amazes me, even by those closest to me. Just a month ago, I lost my nephew, my sister’s only child, as a result of cerebral malaria. So much must be done to raise awareness about malaria and prevention.
Over the last 10 years, several strategies have been put in place by the government to improve the situation. The first strategy was to distribute free mosquito bed nets to pregnant women and children under 5. This strategy was later dropped because the bed nets were unused with the reason that they caused a lot of heat or were simply sold at the market.
Malaria’s grip was encircling the entire population now, not just pregnant women and under 5 children.
Too late to treat
The second strategy focused on reduction of treatment costs in hospitals through subsidies. However, even at no cost, people preferred to self-medicate over going to the hospital to consult and get appropriate treatment.
They always believe it is “just small malaria” that can be treated in a few days. They go to the hospital only when the patient is at a critical stage and highly likely to perish.
Chipping away at malaria
The Round 9 Malaria project provides long-lasting treated mosquito bed nets to the entire population, and runs mass sensitisation and communication for their effective use.
The work of everyone against malaria has slowly chipped away at the disease. 25% of the population is affected, as compared to 50% in 2005-2006.
In Plan Cameroon, we have placed emphasis on communication for behaviour change as a means to combat malaria. Phase one ended in March 2013. The second phase of the project, with a focus on advocacy, communication through mass media and home to home visits for discussions and sensitisation, begins soon.
Our messages will appeal to people to use bed nets and refer suspected cases to nearest health centres within 24 hours.
We are also going to train community health workers on how to detect and treat simple malaria cases, and how to manage and refer severe cases to hospitals.
World Malaria Day is marked every 25 April to highlight the global effort against malaria.
Find out more on the World Malaria Day website**
Read about Plan's work in Cameroon
* Facts from WHO
**Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites.
18 April 2013: There are now less than 1,000 days to go until the 2015 deadline for the world's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The international community is busy examining the progress we’ve made and all the work remaining if we are to realise the vision that was laid out 12 years ago. If we’re going to talk about #MDGMomentum and pushing beyond 2015, we need to have everyone on board.
But aren’t we forgetting someone?
Every year, up to 51 million children under the age of 5 are left vulnerable because their births have not been registered. That’s more people than the entire population of Spain who may miss out on basic services like healthcare and education because they don’t have birth certificates.
The problem has an epicentre that spans 2 continents: 2 out of every 3 children in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are unregistered.
Critical life event
How can we measure our progress towards the MDGs when not all children are counted? How can governments build schools and employ the right number of teachers if they don’t know how many children are born? How can children be vaccinated if nobody knows they exist?
We tend to forget that birth registration is a critical life event and that a birth certificate can make or break a child’s future. Later in life, a birth certificate can help protect a child against forced marriage, child labour, premature enlistment in the armed forces or, if accused of a crime, prosecution as an adult.
Birth registration impacts everybody and it should be high on the agendas of governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and societies in general.
The people most affected by a lack of a birth certificate are those usually on the fringes of society that governments and development organisations alike struggle to identify and support. There are 6 million stateless children in the world, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
These girls and boys are denied a nationality and all the basic rights that come with it, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, abuse, trafficking and forced labour as modern day slaves in deplorable conditions.
Plan has worked since 2005 to help register the births of 40 million children around the world. Together with our partners we have influenced laws in 10 countries, resulting in access to a free birth certificate for more than 150 million children. We work with some of the most marginalised people in some of the hardest-to-reach parts of the world.
But we’re just scratching the surface.
We believe that Universal Birth Registration is impossible to ignore and entirely possible to achieve. This is why we continue to work with parents, caregivers, governments, the private sector and UN agencies to make every child visible.
Birth registration key
Birth registration is key to the achievement of many of the MDGs. There are goals for reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, increasing access to primary education and promoting gender equality, to name but a few. Birth registration has implications for all of these.
This week, at the Global Summit on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics* in Bangkok, global, regional and national actors have come together to map how we’re going to get to 2015 and beyond.
While civil registration sounds like a jargon term it’s really rather simple – it’s fundamentally about the government's record of the most important life events like birth, marriage, divorce and death. But if we're incapable of registering a child's birth, there’s not much hope for the rest of the milestones that children should reach
For individuals and families, civil registration provides proof of identity and enables people to claim, and benefit from, legal, economic and social rights. It also provides proof that the state recognises and respects the lives of those for which it has responsibility.
Governments must act
We need to see more from governments if we’re going to achieve Universal Birth Registration. More than 100 developing countries around the world don't have adequate civil registration systems. Governments must work harder to incorporate birth registration into their policies and practices and ensure that the issue is included in partnerships.
Birth registration works best when communities understand its importance and are engaged in mobilising each other to register all newborn children. We’ve seen this all over the world, from Bangladesh to Zimbabwe.
1,000 days may seem like a long time, but 2015 is just around the corner and we need to be looking at what comes next.
We strongly believe that birth registration should be at the forefront of post-MDG discussions and we urge all governments to take action. Will you join us to make every child count?
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
16 April 2013: Tirivashe’s eyes are fixed on the window as our shuttle speeds along the busy highway between Nice Airport and Cannes in the famous French Riviera.
Besides a brief trip across the border to Zimbabwe, the young Zambian youth advocate had never left her native country and here she was among the palatial villas and rustic villages clinging to the dramatic cliffs that swoop down into the stretch of the Mediterranean known as the Cote d’Azur.
Tirivashe was intrigued as I casually pointed out across the sea and said “if you can swim across that, you’ll be in Africa”; she had never seen the ocean before, or snow for that matter – and both could be seen in dramatic fashion from either side of the car as we headed towards our destination.
On first impression, Cannes seems a ludicrous place for a young African girl to bring her message about the critical importance of education for girls. Yet the city famous for hosting its annual film awards recently played host to a gathering of more than 10,000 of the world’s leading TV executives* and those who produce and trade media content.
Such an audience has the potential to elevate social justice issues to the global stage with a single report, or single media piece, and their global reach is a crucial force to harness in the campaign to ensure every girl can enjoy their right to a quality education.
To capture the attention of this influential group of global broadcasters and media producers, Tirivashe joined a panel stacked with highly influential speakers, and hosted by former British prime minister and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.
A real highlight was sharing the stage for a conversation with Ziauddin Yousafzai, whose daughter, Malala has become a global icon for girls’ right to education, after surviving being shot in the head by militant religious fundamentalists who are so afraid of the power of educated girls that they are prepared to resort to deadly means to deny girls the right to go to school.
The ‘café style’ panel discussion also included Robert Triefus – chief marketing officer, who unveiled plans for a massive concert in London featuring Beyonce, in support of their ‘Chime for Change’ campaign to promote education, health and justice for women and girls.
Tirivashe – having earlier in the day ogled a display of handbags valued at tens of thousands of Euros – slyly noted that ‘this guy was the one to talk to about getting some handbags for her friends back in Zambia’…!
When Tirivashe’s turn came to address the audience, she spoke out beautifully on what education has meant for her, and the power it has to make a real difference in girls’ lives in her community and her country.
However, she was also keen to share stories of girls she knows who have not been as lucky as her, and have been forced to drop out because of being forced to marry very young, or being the victims of violence in and around school, or because resources were scarce and as a result, girls – who are less valued than boys – are first to miss out on school.
12 kilometre walk to school
She also detailed how she walked more than 12 kilometres each way to school – 24 kilometres per day – often at night and having to avoid men and male peers who would threaten or harass her and her friends along the way.
When Tirivashe was asked what she hoped to be once she had completed her education, she replied that she aimed to become a nurse - although opportunities to advocate on the global stage had perhaps given her other ideas.
By the end of the panel event and to the numerous audience members who she talked with afterwards, Tirivashe was remarking about how she couldn’t wait to get back and share her experiences with her friends, and to keep working and campaigning for girls’ education.
Tirivashe is a courageous and inspiring young woman who is proof of the incredible transformative power of providing quality education for girls.
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Discrimination robbed Hawou Adamou of her right to an education. Today, as the President of the Plan-supported Hausa Women's Association for Development in Cameroon, she reflects on her experiences and how she's helping to change girls' lives.
8 April 2013: My name’s Hawou Adamou. I’m the president of the Hausa Women’s Association for Development (AFHADEV). After 38 years, I am going to share my story. It’s not extraordinary, thousands of other girls and women in Cameroon live similar lives in silence. I speak for them too.
I have lived my whole life in Briqueterie, an extremely poor district in the heart of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. 90% of the people living her are Hausas (Muslims) from the northern most part of the country. Tradition is an important part of lives here.
When I was small, I wanted to go to school. My parents said that because I am a girl, I could not go to school; that I would work in the market all day. I sold doughnuts to help pay for my 3 brothers to go to school. For 10 years, I carried a plate full of doughnuts on my head; every day, wandering the streets of Yaounde until I had sold every single one. I did it because I was under the belief that it was my role; my place as a woman. The Hausa way.
Married at 16
When I was 16, I was married to my cousin following an arrangement between our parents. I became a good housewife. I would cook without any help for our family of 10. I would walk miles to go and get water to do the housework, again without help. All this time, I was pregnant.
My in-laws, especially my mother-in-law, would treat me like a servant and my husband would say nothing. Even though I complained to my parents, they continued to ask me for help. Again, I accepted that this was just married life! I had to carry on. Before my 30th birthday I had been pregnant 12 times, resulting in 6 stillbirths and 6 children, although 2 of my children died. Our living conditions were difficult.
Hausa men dress their wives up in fancy clothing and jewellery. The fancier your wife looks, the more prestige for the family. Women are possessions to be decorated. This was the same for me and my husband. He decorated me with more than 300,000CFA in jewellery (about US$600), even when our children were hungry, even though I could barely speak French or read.
After 19 years together, my husband died. And so began another hardship in my life. My family-in-law threw me out because I was not working. I was like a leech to them; my children a burden. I went back to live with my parents, this time I wasn’t alone though, I had the added burden of having to raise 4 children.
Women and girls unite
I knew in my heart that everything I had been subjected to in my life was all due to the fact that I never went to school. In an attempt to revolt, I decided to unite other Hausa women to help all Hausa girls.
I was fed up. I no longer wanted us to be seen as nothing more than ornaments in our own homes. I was going to do something to really assert my rights. I didn’t want other girls in my region to fall into the same helpless situation as me.
That is why I founded the AFHADEV (Hausa Women’s Association for Development) in 2006, which partnered with Plan in 2008.
Today, my association, which has close to 500 members, works to improve the situation of young girls. Our work includes:
- Teaching parents the value and importance of education for young girls
- Teaching women the importance of self employment/financial security as well as to help them with running incoming generating activities.
- Educating women about child illness, HIV and sexual health
- Advocating to parents, men, religious leaders and communities so that they too understand the suffering that girls are subjected to through child marriage, and the need to abolish this practice.
It takes time to change traditions, but I believe this is so important, I keep working.
Find out more about Plan's work in Cameroon
22 March 2013: Last time I was in Dakar, Senegal, my apartment only had cold water. When I first arrived, I considered this a hardship, and I'd diligently warm a pan of water on the stove every morning for my shower. Transferring the pan to a bucket, I quickly learnt the local technique of scooping the hot water over myself with a stripy plastic kettle (they're always stripy, always plastic...).
Suddenly hot water was a luxury, not a given, and suddenly that handkerchief-sized splash of hot water felt as good as a power shower.
After a few weeks the water went off altogether, a regular occurrence in Dakar where random water cuts can last for days. I quickly began to appreciate how lucky we are in the northern world to have such an abundance of crystal clean water for showering, flushing the loo, tooth brushing, boiling the kettle and washing.
In my apartment, the shower and the bathroom tap sputtered, dry as a bone. The dishes lay on the side, moulding. The loo wouldn't flush. Things started to smell. Suddenly water was a luxury, not a given, and I no longer cared whether the water was hot or not - I just wanted it back.
Everywhere you go in the world, water is precious. People seek water; crave water; pay more to live by water; start wars over water. In Senegal, people gather around the teapot in the afternoon to enjoy the West African afternoon tea ritual; 3 progressively sweet cups of water that are carefully boiled with tea leaves and sugar over a small fire for several hours. The last, it is said, is 'sweet as love'.
Most world faiths incorporate ritual washing in their teachings, perhaps because, from a purely pragmatic point of view, if people keep clean, they keep healthy. In Mali, there are songs dedicated to the great river Niger, the only water source in this sweltering, landlocked country.
In Dakar, people are prone to say that life may be hard, but at least they have the sea. In the UK, people move down south to be near the great Atlantic. Sea air, they say, is good for the soul.
World Water Day
World Water Day, 22 March, is a time to pause and appreciate a substance that is available to us so freely and cheaply in the developed world. It is a day to address the fact that 783 million people in the world do not have access to clean water - representing roughly 1 in 10 of the world's population.
A day too, to consider the fact that approximately half the world's population lives in areas that currently, or will soon, face physical water scarcity, or which lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers. These days, water scarcity is being exacerbated by climate change; droughts and floods are increasingly more frequent and severe. Never has it been more important to protect the freshwater ecosystems that can supply clean drinking water in the face of these changes.
Around 700,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. That's almost 2,000 children a day. While I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling deprived if I go without a shower for a morning, thousands of people consider themselves lucky if they source some water to wash with from a dirty pond.
For many women, a morning's work is walking to find water, bringing it back in tubs on their heads. Up to 40 billion working hours are lost every year due to water collection, mostly by women and girls who must walk long distances, sometimes in dangerous circumstances, to collect water.
Some people spend all day looking for water just to keep them alive. Children die falling in lakes as they get water for their families. Others die from diarrhoea because the water they eventually find is so dirty. With good quality water, sanitation and hygiene, many children's lives could be saved.
focuses not only on providing technical solutions to water shortage, such as toilets and boreholes, but also helping change behaviours.
Advocating for hand washing addresses key sanitation issues; a crucial activity since research has found that safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene programmes offer a return of $4 in increased economic productivity for every $1 invested. The World Bank has estimated that hygiene is the most cost-effective health intervention available.
Today, let's pause a moment as we brush our teeth and boil the kettle. Water is the most precious substance on earth; let's work to make sure everyone on earth has the luxury of using it.
Find out more about Plan's water and sanitation work
Displaced by the Mali conflict, Mohammed’s family has borrowed all the money they can to send him to school, while they stay in Mentao refugee camp, Burkina Faso.
21 March 2013: I am extremely excited today, like every Friday afternoon. I am going back home to spend the weekend with my family. This is my life now here in Mentao.
Since we arrived in this part of Burkina Faso, fleeing the troubles in Timbuktu, I have been somehow parted from my parents. That was the only solution for me to stay in school. In the Mentao camp, where we live, there are no secondary schools - only primary schools run by Plan. The closest secondary school is in Djibo, about 50 kilometres from the camp.
At the beginning of the school year, we discussed it with my dad. He said I had to go to Djibo to study but that means I would have to become “more independent” and learn to be “on my own”.
Learning to survive
This is so new for me. With dad and other parents of the camps, we found a house to rent in Djibo. There are 6 of us in this small 3 bed house. The rent is paid by our parents and there is a woman from the camp who is coming once or twice a week to cook for us.
When we started living on our own, I just thought, ‘this is great, this is what I have always wanted to have - my own place’. Over the past months, I have learnt that there are strings attached to this gift.
The simple things I was not bothered to think about are now all mine. From turning the light off while leaving the house, to making sure doors are locked, taking care of bills and liaising between the landlord and my parents.
My dad said it is a learning curve and that it is how I learn to become adult. Perhaps he is right. I don’t care that much because I strangely discovered a new passion for my studies here in Mentao.
I have always been quite good in school. But now I have a strong reason to be studious. My dad has paid over 140 000 FCFA (US$254) to get me and my brother into the private school I am attending. There was no place left in the overcrowded government-owned Lycée provincial in Djibo.
My parents sold a lot of our belongings and borrowed money from friends and relatives to make it happen. I feel there is an extra pressure on me to perform. I have been reading my lessons and doing my homework every day without failing.
I was so proud when I brought my first term results and I had so many good marks. I think my dad was relieved too. I heard my dad talk about next year and his worries about his ability to keep us in school, because of the high fees. I am worried too.
Many of my friends in Mentao camp don’t go to school anymore. They have dropped-out because there is no secondary school in the camp and their parents cannot afford the fees of the private schools in Djibo, plus the rent.
They spend all their days doing nothing in the camp. That is really sad. I know I am lucky. I often share my school experiences with them and I can see they envy me somehow. We all hope things will get better and all of us will be able to attend school.
Like many secondary school teenagers in Mentao, my brother Abdul and I have applied for a bursary with Plan. We are praying we will receive the money to help our parents, who are clearly struggling to make ends meet.
My friend Muhammed, is hoping this bursary will help him go back to school - he hates staying at home all day long doing nothing.
The other day we were discussing about this school thing during our weekend stay in Mentao. A friend said he overheard his parents talking about a Plan project to build a new school building in the government owned Lycée provincial in Djibo, so that there are spaces for all of us.
Things are looking great thanks to all these projects going on. I now envy my friends who are enjoying a gap year in Mentao camp and will certainly be back to school when the new school year starts in October next year.
With no money to buy a school uniform, books or pens, it’s hard to fit in, blogs 17-year-old Habdine - a student displaced by the Mali conflict.
21 March 2013: I argued with my mother again today. We haven’t been able to see eye-to-eye recently. She is cross, perhaps understandably so. She is desperately trying to convince me or even to force me to go back to school.
I haven’t been attending school recently. I left school fuming 10 days ago and I haven’t been back since. She is trying to play down the episode, which made me leave school nearly 2 weeks ago.
Paying for a school uniform
That Monday, I was not allowed to enter the school yard and to attend school because I was not wearing the school uniform. The school uniform is compulsory here. In Kidal, I would never have been excluded from school because of a uniform issue, we were a wealthy family. My parents had good jobs. They had the means to support us. Here, however, it is a struggle. It is a constant struggle for everything.
Mum asked advice from the local association, which has been helping us since we arrived. She then went to see the head teacher. She reminded him that we are a displaced family and that money is short at home.
She later told me that the head teacher was very understanding and apologised to her, saying that I should not have been sent home in the first place. When she came back home, she told me that everything was sorted out and that I can go back to school the next day. But for me everything is far from being sorted out.
Struggling to adjust
Being excluded from school the other day was the last straw. I have been struggling over the past year to adjust to our new situation, our new way of life.
Every boy of my age needs a ‘gang’ to hang around with. I had my mates in Kidal. The band was dismantled when we were all forced to run for our lives. Some of my friends are now refugees in Burkina Faso, in Niger or in Algeria. Others stayed in Mali and are displaced in Mopti or in the capital Bamako.
So back in March 2012, I was still disoriented because I had lost my mates. Then I decided to give Segou a try. I am still struggling to find a group of friends as cool as my friends in Kidal. I could have found mates, but our situation here is not helping.
The now usual lack of books, lack of pens, lack of school uniform, lack of money to buy suitable clothes for after school, lack of a proper home to receive friends - all these things means that I cannot fit in. I am not seen as cool enough.
After what happened the other day, I just thought what’s the point? I just wanted to give up. I was so angry, disappointed or sad, rather.
I didn’t tell mum but I know I’ll go back to school at some point. I know school is important.
In our first days here, I was at home all the time. It took a couple of weeks before they found a school for me. In that gap, I had the time to taste what it feels like to be a school drop-out - always at home, doing nothing, learning nothing and basically having no future. That’s not the life I want for myself.
That’s not the life my mum or any of the association and aid workers who worked hard to get me back to school want for me either. I won’t tell them that, because I don’t want to lose my self-proclaimed status of being a ‘tough guy’, but I am very grateful to all of them.
Our journey, as a family, would have been even harder if they were not here to help us through.
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We have been living on the edge for too long, blogs Fadimata, 15, who is now living in Segou having fled conflict in Timbuktu.
21 March 2013: I made it to school today. I am so pleased. Up to the last minute mum didn’t know if she would be able to pay the 500 CFAF (about US$1) transport fees for a return ticket to school on a donkey cart.
I was pacing everywhere. I was frantic. I told her that I have an important exam and I have been working hard for it and there was no reason I should end up with a 0/20 because I missed school again.
She was anxious. I could see that on her face. I know when she is anxious, she usually says nothing, but I can see in her eyes that she is upset. After being ‘bullied’ by me, she went and borrowed money from a neighbour. And so I was able to go to school in time for my exam. I don’t know how long this will last.
Living on the edge
We have been living like that, on the edge, for too long I think. Ever since, we left Timbuktu after the trouble started last year. Here in Segou, mummy rents one bedroom for 10 of us to live in - me, my brothers and sisters and cousins. It is not easy. You cannot get any privacy here. Sometime a girl needs her privacy. In this single room, this is not possible.
In Timbuktu, we had more space and we did not pay rent, we lived in our own house. I don’t know how mum copes with this on her own.
Lucky to be alive
Dad is still in Timbuktu, he has never left. I don’t know how we all cope, especially when I am angry - and I have been upset more than once recently. Mum says that we are lucky to be here, we are lucky to be alive and we are lucky to have received such a lovely welcome from everybody here in Segou.
I know that’s true. I know sometimes mum goes to the shops and the owners give her some items for free, until she gets the money to pay them back. I know we have received gifts, vegetables, cereals from neighbours and stuff.
I remember in our first months here, I wasn’t able to do my homework at home, because there is no electricity in our rented accommodation. We received a lamp from Plan. They also gave us some textbooks, bags, pens and pencils.
We were so pleased, this happened just a few days after mum told us that we will have to wait a couple of weeks before she could afford to buy our school items. People have been very generous. God has been watching over us.
I feel better when I think about all this. It could have been worse. My best friend - people used to call us the twins - stayed in Timbuktu. Her life has taken such an unexpected path. She always wanted to stay in school and to become a teacher. I was shocked to hear that she got married last summer, to the keeper of the clothes shop, we sometimes buy from.
He is quite a nice guy. But this was so unexpected. She told me she was so not ready for that. I miss Djenne. I know she will have lots of things to say to me about her new life. I have things to say also about my year out of Timbuktu.
Home for summer?
A couple of weeks ago, when I heard that Timbuktu was liberated, I was so happy. I started packing my things. Well, not really - whenever I was at home I thought through the things I should not forget to take, like textbooks.
I told all my friends that we’ll be going back to Timbuktu within weeks. This didn’t happen. I am not fazed by it. I know it will happen later on this year.
My mum told us the other day that if the situation continues to improve we will be back home this summer. I am praying all stays ok so that we can go home at last.
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