Attacks and threats of violence are forcing schools in the region to close. Meet the children who are determined to keep learning.
Hussaini*, 14, is one of the lucky ones. He escaped. In 2018, as terrorism by extremist groups in the Sahel crossed into Burkina Faso, his village was attacked while he was in school. First, he heard screaming, and then gunfire. “They shot at our teachers and killed one of them,” he says. “They burned dwn the classrooms.” Hussaini ran home and within a matter of minutes, his family set off. They left everything behind, including school. Since that day, Hussaini has not set foot in a classroom. “I used to love school, to read, to count and to play during recess,” he says. “It’s been a year since I last went...”
While attacks on military outposts are relatively common in West and Central Africa, until recently, schools were not often affected. But from the end of June 2017 to June 2019, the number of schools forced to close due to rising insecurity tripled. More than 9,200 schools closed across Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, leaving 1.91 million children without education. These children face a much higher risk of recruitment by armed groups, gender-based violence and targeting by traffickers.
But in desperate times, innovation offers solutions. Thanks to a radio set he received as part of the UNICEF-backed Radio Education in Emergencies programme, Hussaini is still learning every day. Along with radio lessons in literacy and numeracy, Hussaini works with a trained facilitator, Abdoulaye*, 23, who visits him regularly to help with his comprehension. “It’s good. All the family listens to the [radio] lessons now,” says Hussaini. But he still misses his old school. “We had good teachers,” he recalls. “I don’t know where they are today.”