This is the first in a series of two blogs about how the Central African Republic has rebuilt its basic education system following the crisis that began in December 2012, with accelerated funding from the Global Partnership for Education.
Dorcas is a fifth grade student at St. Anne Primary School in Dekoa, Kémo province, in the Central African Republic (CAR). When I met her in her school, she told me a painful memory from the recent conflict.
“Soon after the war began to ravage my village, my family escaped to the bush where we ended up spending a year. There was nothing to do and I really missed my school. So one day, I walked a long way to go back to school hoping to see some teachers and friends. Instead, I saw the entire building occupied by armed men. It was in total disorder. From a distance, I watched them take out school benches and textbooks from my classroom and burn them to ashes. I could not help myself – I burst into tears. It took away my last hope.”
Children and families throughout the country suffer
Unfortunately, Dorcas’ story is not exceptional in CAR, where the recent armed conflict has devastated the country and destroyed the lives of many people.
When I first arrived in Bangui at the peak of the conflict in early 2014, many schools throughout the country remained closed or damaged in the midst of continuing violence.
Nevertheless, many of the people that I met in displacement camps still dreamed of the day that schools would reopen: children were eager to be with their friends, teachers to be in classrooms, and parents were keen to send their children back to school.
The Global Partnership responds quickly to the crisis
The CAR received relatively little attention from the rest of the world despite the complexity and gravity of the crisis. But then, the hopes of students like Dorcas gradually came back with the accelerated funding provided by the Global Partnership for Education. As one of the UNICEF staff members closely involved, I could clearly see the changes brought by the program.
The CAR is only the third country to receive this kind of accelerated funding from GPE (Somalia and Yemen also received GPE accelerated funding), which aims at the prompt rebuilding of education services in conflict-affected and fragile countries.
In CAR, UNICEF is responsible for managing the accelerated funding of US$3.69 million, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
The program focused on the restoration of basic education services. Activities included fixing damaged classroom facilities such as doors, windows and ceilings, providing school benches and blackboards to replace the destroyed ones, distributing basic school supplies to students and securing these classrooms by putting locks on the doors.
Responding to the most urgent needs
From September to November 2014, catch-up classes were organized to help students and teachers who had been out of school during the conflict. Given the importance of quickly restoring the functioning of the ministry, the program also supported ministry officials in the targeted zones by providing them with basic office supplies, telephone credit and fuel to coordinate activities in the field with school headmasters and implementing partners.
Given the ongoing conflict context, however, the road to achieving the goals of the program was certainly not easy. In fact, the ministry, UNICEF and the implementing partners had to face a number of challenges.
Insecurity coupled with ongoing volatility and unpredictability were some of the biggest challenges. Some of the schools targeted were inaccessible due to ongoing fighting or the active presence of armed groups in the region. Some schools in the capital remained closed until halfway through the program due to the insecurity caused by continued violence including regular shooting in many districts. The conflict also resulted in severe damage to schools. In particular, schools initially made of local materials such as mud and branches were completely destroyed during the conflict.
Challenges pile up
Extremely poor road conditions caused high costs and frequent delays in material delivery and made carrying out the project extremely difficult. The situation was further aggravated in the rainy season between May and November, during which heavy rains and overflowing rivers significantly added to the already muddy and dismal road conditions. On top of this, the price of needed materials tripled when the goods stopped coming in because of insecurity at the border between CAR and Cameroon, the main import route.
Most ministry buildings and offices had been looted both in the capital and in provinces, which affected not only their working conditions, but impacted their capacity to provide oversight and guidance to teachers. At the same time, many families lost their homes and household goods during the conflict. The impoverished parents were left with little means to send children back to school even if schools reopened.
The ministry, UNICEF and the implementing partners developed creative solutions to minimize the impact of these challenges and help achieve the expected results. In the next blog post, I will explain how we tackled some of these challenges.
UNICEF implementing partners and targeted zones under GPE’s accelerated funding program
CORDAID: Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid
ESF: Children without Borders (national NGO)
FCA: Finn Church Aid
NRC: Norwegian Refugee Council
SCI: Save the Children International