As I walked through the Gihembe refugee camp, the biggest building structure inside the camp was the Hope school. And though it was the biggest building, it was still made out of clay and wood and it still had the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tarp for a roof.
I wondered what kind of impact a good physical environment of a school building would bring to the education of these children. I know how important a secure environment is for a child’s healthy cognitive and emotional development. I know how overall safety, dignity and pride of the students would be impacted in a positive way by providing good school buildings, big class rooms, playgrounds, desks, drinking water, and separate toilets for boys and girls. I wondered…why it is so hard to build a simple, safe school building for the kids in the camp! Nothing fancy, like the nicer schools. We don’t need every little thing taken into consideration, like the right or wrong kind of corridor, a leaking roof, undersized class rooms, poor heating, bigger gyms, etc. I was thinking of the basics. I am a strong believer that environment is helpful to a good education, but not essential, and it still comes down to the ability of the teacher to transport and inspire students verbally. But having said that, we cannot neglect the humanitarian issues like a safe environment for children, a roof that does not leak or a wall that will not get washed off when it rains.
I looked around the camp and saw more and more needs. The UNHCR is doing their best to keep up with the demands, but with limited funds to work with only means less funds for education and definitely no new school buildings for the camps. However, I had to believe that there is still Hope. I could just see how things could be different with the help of nonprofits like Impact Hope and philanthropic people. Efforts must be made to progressively raise the quality of schooling, building, and maintenance of the structures. Consistent donor funding is needed to maintain even low cost models of refugee education. Funding is a major crisis, even for the UNHCR. This gap can be bridged only if there are dedicated people who care enough to share. I believe that the humanitarian community can contribute to a more peaceful future simply by supporting causes like education and related projects. I totally understand that emergency education response starts under a tree or in a small dirt hut, but with families living in these camps for decades, emergency education should not continue these ways.
Good quality education is the vehicle that helps rebuild refugee children’s lives through social interaction and gaining knowledge and skills for futures lives. A refugee who goes without education cannot look forward to a more productive and prosperous future. A refugee who is unable to attend school is more likely to become frustrated and involved in illegitimate activities. A refugee who remains illiterate will have a serious disadvantage in defending his or her human rights.
Refugees undoubtedly suffer a great deal of hardship and trauma, but they also show tremendous determination to make the best of a bad situation and to prepare for the day when they can resume a normal way of life. But the truth is, even though a refugee wants to make a difference, they cannot do it alone. They need our help. Are we ready?