As reported in previous blogs there are more refugees in the world than ever before, numbering some 65million and over half of them are children.  The civil war in South Sudan is one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world and Ethiopia has opened its borders to 375,000 refugees living in camps and host communities in the Gambella region.

Jellybean’s donation (together with increased funding from the EU) is covering the building of 5 new classrooms in this region, as well as providing essential books and learning materials for 700 children. Our vision and hope are that through education children will be given the foundations to pull themselves out of poverty, as well as helped to deal with the trauma of being displaced.

The Jellybean Safe Schools Project got off to a slower start than we initially envisaged, but the delays were essential and necessary to ensure the right foundations are laid and that sustainable support is in place to secure long term success. It was important that Plan International established local relationships with influencer and administrative bodies to provide critical buy-in and support. It was also key that the right and best experienced staff were recruited, particularly a team leader, to drive progress and maintain momentum.  Plan also had to deal with incidents of unrest in the local area, as well as finalise contracts with suppliers and it was critical that they identified and selected the right target school communities for the project.  I am delighted to say there has been some good progress on all these aspects in recent months.

Plus, since our last update Plan has started a pilot programme of remedial classes for 1,800 children in Numeracy, English and Local Language to help them catch up with lessons that they’ve missed, and to help ease them into returning to the school environment.  It is common for refugee children to struggle when they return to school because they are often recovering from life changes, loss and trauma and have also missed out on key learning stages.

Learning materials have already been purchased and are ready for distribution at the start of the next school year (September 2019).  Training has begun for school staff and management on gender equality, inclusivity (particularly girls) and supporting children in a humanitarian setting.  Codes of conduct have been established and translated into 5 languages.  Plan have also now identified the 4 schools where they will be building classrooms and latrine blocks in host communities.

Education in the area is not just about reading writing and arithmetic in schools, it is also about understanding life values and learning to live in a harsh and often violent world. Which is why Plan is working hard to establish Gender Clubs to champion gender equality and make sure girls’ voices are heard.  25 adolescent girls have been selected and trained in comprehensive sex and relationship education and will cascade what they learn to a wider audience, so that other girls know their own worth and can identify and avoid gender-based violence.

In addition to this, 41 Mothers in Schools have been recruited, who will be visible female role models in the school and local community to encourage parents to send and keep their daughters in school to minimise drop-outs.

I’m delighted to share a video that Plan have made about their work in Gambella, which shows children enjoying a ‘child-friendly safe space’ where those who have seen and experienced unimaginable trauma can simply be children.

Whilst this is not specifically our school, it does showcase the wider work and holistic approach undertaken by Plan.

As you can see the Jellybean project is a lot more complex than building some school classrooms, recruiting teachers who speak the lingo and providing learning materials.  It is critical to the sustained success of the project to get all the surround issues and dynamics addressed as well.

Its not just the refugee kids at school in Gambella that are learning from this project because I am too.  I am learning how much PIan are involved and engaged in the local community, I am more aware of the need to get everything in place before laying the first building brick, I am learning how important it is to understand the culture and the mental health issues that come with refugee status and how gender inequality and violence is rife in these communities.  Above all I am learning how lucky we all are to live in a relatively privileged country where education, food, drink, housing, women’s rights and personal security are taken for granted. And I am learning to appreciate more the great work that charities like Plan undertake around the globe addressing a wide range of human needs and situations.