School is the only place where 7-year-old Valerie feels safe.
She tells me that when she’s outside playing, she remembers the day her father was shot by a stray bullet in the street. When she’s trying to sleep at home, she has flashbacks to nights filled with the sound of gunfire.
It’s only in class that she can remember what life was like before violence gripped Central African Republic. She says that at school, she gets the chance to learn something new.
Children’s education has been a casuality of conflict here. Two years of schooling have been interrupted by violence and insecurity. But children will progressively return to classes this month as part of an ambitious Back to School campaign for 662,000 students.
We’re working with teachers, parents and the Government to not just rebuild schools – but to transform them into places where children learn not just how to read and write, but how to live together in peace.
We’re starting over – rehabilitating schools, supporting catch-up classes to students, training teachers, and distributing materials and equipment like exercise books, pencils and school desks under the Global Partnership for Education.
The most basic support is essential. When headmistress Madame Gpoili re-opened the doors to her primary school in western Central African Republic, she didn’t even have chalk.
“I bought my own chalk to work, as well as some notebooks and pens for the children,” she told me.
Soon after she re-opened her dusty classrooms, UNICEF distributed school kits to students, with notebooks, pens and pencils, erasers and sharpeners.
Madame Gpoili made an initial exception on school fees for children whose parents couldn’t afford to pay. And the headmistress teaches a class full-time because the school doesn’t yet have enough teachers.
She believes that re-opening her school gave the community faith that peace would return to the city of Berberati, and to the country.
“Our future is our young people. We need them to develop our country. I will do everything I can to make sure they can go to school.”