Niyongere is 10 years old. His parents are called Sebizigiye and mother Marianne. He lives in Nduta refugee camp of Tanzania. He recalls his young life back in Muremera Village in Ruyigi Province of Burundi when every night, armed men would come looking for his father Sebizigiye. His father would hide under the bed. The men would threaten to kill him when they found him.
Their home area became very insecure due to political instability. Men with dark motives prowled the streets at night. Even walking to school in the morning became very dangerous. One day, one of his classmates was killed on his way to school. He heard about it during an announcement by his teacher Mrs. Nishimiye. He had also lost contact with his best friend Sengiyuva before leaving Burundi, and has never heard from him again.

He likes Mathematics. “Maths helps me to learn how to count numbers. I am fascinated by numbers. I can count from one to ten in Swahili, English and Kirundi,” he says. While in Nduta refugee camp, Niyongere’s best friend is called Mugisha. He dreams of becoming a teacher when he grows up. He thinks teaching is a very noble and fulfilling work. 

However, he lacks learning tools like pencils and books. To help him during class, he borrows from the teacher or from other students. While at home, Niyongere has improvised a new method of doing homework. He has kept aside stones that he uses to write on the soil outside their tent. 

During his free time he goes to fetch water from the river. He also spends time looking for firewood. Together with Mugisha, they like to play football. They also play cards, which involves picking cards from a pile and displaying in turns. The person with the highest score wins. He says that he wins most of the time. In addition, Niyongere, whose name means ‘give me more’, spends a lot of time chatting with his father. When he was born, his parents offered a prayer to God to give them more children. His says that his father encourages him to love education. He helps his mother to cook.

Quotes from Niyongere:

“I miss the school where I was studying. In Burundi, I had school bag, shoes, clothes and pens.”
“I miss the school where I was studying in Burundi. I had enough materials: shoes and clothes, pens and a school bag, rubber. I also had friends who loved me so much.”
“But here I do not have materials. I do not have exercise books. When I want to write, I borrow papers from friends or the teacher. He gives me a paper and pen and I write. Also we sit on stones.”
“I am happy because I am in the camp. I get peace. Even though we do not have built schools, they will help us.”
“I want to study with all my efforts so that I finish studies and become a teacher, as I want to be in my life.”
“I like school so much. I also like to learn.”
“You see, in Burundi I had exercise books, pen, school uniform, school bag, shoes. But here, I do not have them.” 
“You know, I left the school in Burundi when we came here.”
“We decided to flee Burundi because there was conflict. They were hunting for us, they wanted to harm us. That is why we decided to come here. We left because they wanted to kill us.”	
“I feel better because I left a conflict area to come to a non-conflict area, to live well.”
“You know, in Burundi I had friends. One of those friends was Tuyisenge Moses. Another one was called Niyibitanga Sekis. Another one was Nakayibona Methode.”
“You know, in Burundi we could farm tomatoes, cassava or farming maize, or farming vegetable or peas, we also kept goats. I had friends but I do not see them here.”
“I miss the school where I was learning and friends and home and relatives.” 
“Because we are studying in the open sometimes people pass by talking and we are distracted. We cannot follow the lesson well.”
“When another teacher is teaching a nearby classroom, we look at him and fail to follow our teacher.”
“I like to be a teacher so that I teach other children like how I am being taught”
“At home, my parents, siblings and myself we were afraid that they would harm us. I used to hear that others had the same problems.”
“But when I heard that we wanted to come here, I became happy.”
“Thank you very much for telling my story.”
“I miss my exercise books, pen and school bag, school uniform and shoes.”

Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun
"I miss the school where I was studying in Burundi," says Niyongere, 10. He fled from Burundi with his family and now lives in Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Millions of children miss school because of war and drought in East Africa

Published 07. Sep 2017
While students around the world go back to school, millions of children who fled conflict and drought in East Africa have no classes to attend.

“We decided to flee Burundi because there was war. I miss the school where I was studying in Burundi. I had enough materials: shoes and clothes, pens, eraser and a school bag,” says ten-year-old Nyongere at Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. But this year he has no school to attend.

With war and drought hitting several East African countries, millions of children like Nyongere who fled their homes are crammed into camps with few schools and little chance for an education.

“The lack of education for displaced children could create a lost generation,” says Gabriella Waaijman, Regional Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “Tomorrow is International Literacy Day, and children have the right to go to school. Education can save children’s lives during emergencies. Schools provide children a secure location, they build protective social structures, they teach essential knowledge for survival, and they safeguard the futures of children and communities.”

Many children remain stuck in refugee camps for years, wishing that they could go to school. In the Kigoma district camps in Tanzania, some classes are held under trees, and the number of students in each class can be as high as 200. About half of 318,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in Tanzania living in refugee camps are children. Only 65 per cent of primary, and three percent of secondary students are in school.

In South Sudan, 2.2 million children are out of school due to conflict in several regions. The country has the highest proportion of children out of school globally, with over 70 per cent of children not getting an education. Over one third of all schools have been damaged or destroyed during the conflict.

In Somalia, over two decades of conflict meant that access to basic education was among the world’s lowest. This was worsened by the current drought which caused 766,000 people to flee their homes, imperilling the little but hard-won progress in education. Nearly two million children of school age are not in school, and 30 per cent of children complete four years of schooling without learning basic elementary skills.

In Uganda, there are now over one million refugees from South Sudan, and more than half are children. Forty per cent of children between six and 13 years old are not enrolled in primary school; and 80 per cent of secondary school-aged young people are not enrolled in secondary education. Each teacher has up to 128 children in their class.

In Kenya, 588,000 school aged children need emergency education assistance due to the drought crisis. Over 1,200 schools do not have access to safe drinking water. Only seven percent of funding needs for emergency education have been met.

With the East African drought crisis, education receives far less funding than other emergency programmes. Out of the USD 970 million in funding committed to the drought crisis in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, only USD 16.5 million is for education projects, only 1.7 per cent of total funds. Education funding for other crises in the region is also far below the need. The international aid community agreed in 2015 that four per cent of humanitarian aid should go to education, but that target has not been reached for any country in the region. Among areas of humanitarian need, education is funded the least. This leaves a huge funding shortfall.

Education is lifesaving for displaced children. School attendance can keep children from joining armed groups. Lifesaving awareness on landmines and unexploded bombs can be taught in school. Without hygiene knowledge that children can learn in school, some refugee children can die of disease. Schools for refugees often provide lunches, reducing child malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.

“Everyone agrees on the importance of education, especially for children affected by conflict. Therefore, it is incomprehensible and unjustifiable that so little funding is provided for education for children in emergencies,” said Waaijman.

With more children fleeing their homes and with little humanitarian funding for schools, East Africa faces an education crisis. NRC calls on the international community and donors to live up to commitments they made previously, asking them to ensure that education plays its role in alleviating humanitarian crises. More funding should be committed for the education response for the multiple crises in East Africa.