I am delighted to report that Jellybean’s School initiative with Plan International progresses apace. The construction materials and contractors have been secured, and construction was scheduled to begin this month – we look forward to a further update soon.But let’s be honest no one wants to look at photos of a building site, so I thought I would share with you some inspiring images from a neighbouring project in the Gambella region in Ethiopa so you can see the vision rather than the current reality.

One of our contacts at Plan International UK recently visited a similar project in Ethiopia, also in the Gambella region and sent me some heart-warming photos of child-friendly spaces, which Plan International Ethiopia sets up in emergency areas to give children a safe space to play, learn and receive emotional support. These safe zones are invaluable in giving the children a sense of normality in a situation that can otherwise be very disorientating and disruptive to childhood.

A picture is worth a thousand words so I hope these bring to life what we are trying to achieve with our special project…

There is a school in this area of the camp too, built by Plan International and similar to the one we are involved in at Jellybean. Our project has a longer-term focus and centres around new classrooms and community learning hubs specifically, but I hope by showing these pictures I have reinforced how holistic Plan International’s approach is going beyond essential education and providing emotional support and safe places where children can just be children.

It really is a tragic situation for these refugees and to reiterate why our Plan International project in Gambella is so important to us I share Nyalat’s horrific story with you which sadly could be told a thousand times over for other victims of conflict in the area.

15-year-old Nyalat is from South Sudan and now lives in one of Gambella’s camps. She can clearly recall the first time she experienced conflict in her life when armed men broke in to her school and burned it to the ground. Then, in 2016, her own village was attacked by armed rebels and she together with her 6-year-old sister escaped into the forest. That moment changed her life forever, all her family had run in different directions, so she found herself, at the age of 13, alone in a conflict zone with a younger sister to take care of.

Amazingly they made their way on foot to the Ethiopian border and with the help of the UN Refugee Agency were taken to Gambella. The two sisters now live with a foster family in one of the refugee camps but with serious overcrowding life is still very dangerous for them – forced labour, rapes and abductions are common place.

Nyalat is a girls’ rights advocate and is back in school again after a traumatic escape

Plan International Ethiopia is working in several of Gambella’s camps to make life safer for girls like Nyalat and her sister, providing support so that they feel safe and protected whether in their homes or through the creation of safe spaces where they can spend time with their friends. Plan International Ethiopia facilitate regular discussions, recreational activities and life skills training workshops and demonstrations.

Today Nyalat has resumed her studies and is a grade four student at a primary school in the camp supported by Plan International and ultimately, she hopes to fulfil her ambition of becoming a doctor. “Life has improved now,” she says. “I miss my home and family but living in this camp has given me hope that there can be life after conflict.”

We look forward to the day when our Jellybean classrooms are up and running and helping children like Nyalat to find hope, inspiration and a future through education and a safer living environment.