Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have sought protection in Maiduguri, the capital of the conflict-ridden state of Borno, in North East Nigeria. Many live in camps, while others have been taken in by local families.
On the street because there is no room at school
In the streets, young children run around and beg for money to get something to eat. Over 300,000 children don’t have the chance to go to school. Many of these are children who were forced to flee from the conflict. In 2015, fierce battles here between Boko Haram and government soldiers left houses and schools in ruins. The situation is still tense and the town is at constant risk from suicide bombers, but people still feel safer inside the town than out in the countryside.
Hard to prioritise
Schooling saves lives, provides protection, creates stability and communicates knowledge and skills. At Mune Education Centre, NRC provides vocational training for youth and schooling for children who have lost years of primary school. The project started in June 2018 and already has 2,752 students. There is widespread poverty among the local population in Maiduguri, but the Education Centre offers places to both local children and children of displaced families.
However, limited funds mean that we have to prioritise. NRC wants to reach even more children, and not least there is a need for more trained teachers who have the skills to help children with trauma. But the lack of money means that we have to choose between building more houses or using the money for education.
Mune Education Centre offers programmes adapted for the local community, with courses in agriculture, crafts and sewing. The is an equal number of girls and boys, but the subjects they choose are not surprising. The girls want to sew clothes, while the boys want to be carpenters. There is a childcare service for young mothers while they are in class, and protection groups to prevent abuse and sexual exploitation. Students also learn how to take care of their health and protect themselves against cholera, for example.
Schools create community
The school brings people together. Nigeria is composed of many different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. In the north-east, there are Muslim groups such as the Kanuri, Hausa and Shuwa and large Christian minorities consisting of people originally from the south. In many camps, the different groups keep to themselves. In refugee situations, people seek out the familiar to feel safe. The beauty of education projects is that children and young people come together across traditional dividing lines. In this way, old differences are broken down and new friendships arise.
At Mune Education Centre, there is only space for one child per family. But by educating one young person, you simultaneously give knowledge to a whole family. Mothers, fathers and siblings all sit eager to learn at the home in the afternoon when the students from Mune come back after the school day.
No education, no future
The education projects are already bearing fruit. The boys studying carpentry have set up new buildings connected to the school and both girls and boys who finish school receive a starter kit consisting of tools or a sewing machine, for example, that will help give them a future. They also learn to set up simple budgets so that they are not exploited in the labour market.
The lack of education for children is a huge challenge in North East Nigeria. In reality, education in the public school system is not free. Parents must pay fees and purchase a school uniform, which means that many people don’t have the opportunity to go to school. The education level was very low before the conflict started in 2009, and it has just gone downhill since.
Without education for the generation that will soon take over, building a future will be impossible. It affects everything from girls’ ability to make enlightened choices about reproductive health, or when they want to marry, to making the voices of the north-east heard in the capital Abuja.
NRC was one of the first aid organisations to introduce education as a core element of emergency aid.
Read more about how we work with education in crises here.