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“Our teachers told us to run.” This is Ruth’s story.

Ruth used to wake up every morning wondering what she would learn at school. But when Boko Haram came in with guns, her place of learning became a place of danger.

Ruth, aged 14, is one of over a million children who have been forced to flee their home by fighting in North-East Nigeria, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The country has more out of school children within its borders than any other in the world. 

For Ruth, the experience of being displaced is not one she will forget easily. “Boko Haram went from house to house killing everybody,” she recalls. “We had to run.”

Our teachers told us to run back home. There was no more school that day. I had no more school for three years.

The International Rescue Committee is responding by recognising the healing power of education through the Children of Peace project. 12,000 children across 100 communities have been reached through reading and maths classes in safe spaces where children are free to learn, play and heal. Ruth is one of those children.

“Now I am going to school in Yola,” Ruth tells us in English – one of her favourite subjects. “I used to struggle with maths, but our teacher is really helping me.”

Ruth stands with her Mum outside her home in North-East Nigeria.

Ruth stands with her Mum outside her home in North-East Nigeria.

Photo: E. Robinson for the IRC

The Children of Peace project has a focus on social and emotional wellbeing – seeking to boost children’s self-esteem and provide them with a network of support. Teachers are trained in numeracy and literacy, but also in counselling, to help children to overcome trauma.

In this way, education becomes a life-saving intervention.  As Ruth says, “School and play help us forget what happened, and allow us to make new friendships so we can deal with our situation.”

When children are given access to quality education, the benefits extend to the whole family. “Going to school makes my mother proud,” Ruth explains. “When I come back home, she always asks me what I have learned today.”

Ruth still misses her school at home. But she can at least feel safe, and look forward to learning again.

“Going to school is always important,” she says. “Wherever you are.”