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Safe spaces in Niger

Creating a safe place to learn for children in Niger's refugee camps

In 2012, violent clashes in Mali forced thousands of people to flee their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs, seeking refuge in Niger. Further violence in north-eastern Nigeria has forced yet more refugees into a struggling country and into its already over-stretched education system, which is having difficulty coping with the influx of children into its schools.

“The school enrolment and literacy rates in Niger are very low”, explains Jean de Lestrange, a technical assistant with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) in Niamey, Niger.

“We face a huge challenge to provide quality education each year, with the need for new classrooms, needs for new teachers and needs for new schools”, he expands.

In partnership with ECHO the International Rescue Committee is supporting over 21,000 displaced Malian, Nigerian and Nigerien children aged 6 to 11 to access a quality education, and is meeting the ever growing need for schooling resources. Additionally, the IRC is working closely with parents and teachers to ensure that the education provided is tailored to the needs of children who have been displaced and have experienced trauma.

“The IRC provides capacity building support for teachers in Healing Classrooms teaching, which trains them in special techniques that mean they can support children who have been victims of trauma” says Ismael Souleymane, a Children and Youth Protection Officer with the IRC.

“These children witnessed atrocities in Mali and they need support to have confidence in themselves. The IRC also supports the school by providing all the necessary school supplies and by building classrooms in the camp”, he further explains.

“It really helps for children to go to school, because if they do not go to school they will not forget what they lived through in Mali. The IRC has done a lot. It has been really great” says Abdoulaye Abdourhamane, a parent and member of the school Parents Teachers Association, who fled to Tabareybarey Camp in Niger with his children in 2012.

“The children have really changed a lot. Their behaviour has changed a lot. Now they come along to school by themselves, sometimes they don’t even wait for breakfast.”

The IRC is supporting children in Tabareybarey and Mangaize refugee camps, as well as in Diffa, Niger to access quality education, with funding from ECHO under the EU Children of Peace initiative. The EU Children of Peace initiative aims to support humanitarian projects for children in conflict-affected regions, providing them with access to schools where they can learn in a safe environment.

Photos: Peter Biro/IRC