Adaoula, 11, started her education again after more than three years out of school, though an accelerated learning programme for children in conflict affected areas in Mali, part of UNICEF’s Every Child Counts campaign.
In Mali, 500 schools remained closed at the end of the last school year. UNICEF and partners are working hard for uninterrupted learning for Aminata, and for every child.
By Helen Sandbu Ryeng and Cindy Cao
MOPTI, Mali/HONG KONG, 7 November 2017 – “We fled because of the conflict,” says Aminata Haidara. She was only 10 when her family escaped from their hometown, Gao, in 2013.
The Haidaras took a harrowing two-day motorbike journey to Sevare, in Mopti, Central Mali.
Back in Gao, some of Aminata’s relatives were hurt – or killed.
Instability and violence
Since conflict erupted in Mali in 2012, children like Aminata have faced significant threats, including risking losing their homes, schools, even their families. Despite a peace agreement signed in June 2015, Northern regions such as Gao have seen renewed violence.
“I miss Gao,” Aminata says wistfully. “My friends and some of my family members are still there. I hope the conflict will end so I can go back.”
She feels mostly safe in Mopti. “There is no conflict here, but I’m worried that it will come here, too,” she admits.
It is a fear that is legitimate; the security situation in Mali remains volatile, and instability and violence have now reached some parts of Mopti and Segou.
Insecurity and the presence of armed groups have a destructive impact on the continuity of schooling for many children. At the end of the 2016–17 school year, 500 schools were closed in conflict-affected regions. Some one million children of primary school age are out of school in Mali due to such reasons as school closures, household poverty, child marriage and child labor.
Aminata was able to continue her learning at the Moulaye Dembele school in Mopti. Her school welcomes many internally displaced children. Her favourite subject is English, but she likes math and French, too.
But the spectre of losing out on her education is always present and Aminata is concerned about schools closing in Mopti.
With the number of schools closed in Mopti doubling in only one year, the situation remains extremely worrying. Out-of-school children not only miss out on schooling, they are also exposed to other risks, including child marriage, child labour and other forms of exploitation and abuse.
Faced with this complex problem, UNICEF and partners from the education cluster are putting in place measures to bring uninterrupted schooling to every child in Mali.
“UNICEF interventions seek to fulfil the right to education for every child in the safest manner possible, mainly through advocacy to reopen schools and open new community learning centres,” explains UNICEF Mali Education Specialist Joa Keis.
UNICEF also provides school manuals and other equipment to support teachers and students going back to school, and supports radio broadcasts on the right to education. In Aminata’s school, UNICEF provides teacher training modules in peace education and psychosocial support for children affected by conflict.
In the relative stability of Mopti, Aminata is back to learning, and her hopes are being nurtured again. One day, 15 years from now, she would like to be married and have her own family in Gao.
But her dream doesn’t stop there. “I want to become a doctor when I grow up because I want to help people, and especially women. This is why I want to become an obstetrician.”