“The children have fun and forget about what they have been through”

Early childhood education lays a foundation for peace in the Central African Republic.

Children in the Central African Republic have endured years of violence and conflict. Armed groups struggle for control of the country’s natural resources, leaving families in the middle dealing with the chaos. In 2013, rebel forces took over the capital amid intense fighting. A fragile peace has been restored since then, but for residents of Bangui’s Fifth Arrondissement, fear and isolation remain for the families living in this volatile environment.

 

This year we have 638 children. Before the conflict in the Central African Republic, we had little more than 300. But we can’t deny registration to a child, because with the crisis, there are no more preschools in Bangui’s Fifth Arrondissement. Some parents are still living in camps for displaced people, and others have fled their destroyed neighbourhoods to come and live around here. So when they bring their children, we cannot turn them away.

Closeup of small child looking at the camera
© UNICEFChildren in Bangui’s 5th District have endured violence and displacement. Preschool gives them a safe place to learn, play and have fun.

We accept them all, and then of course the classes are overcrowded. It does create problems, because we have way too many children. They don’t even have anywhere to sit, but we try to manage.

The crisis has had a huge impact. Sometimes when they are in class and they hear gunfire, children start crying and it is difficult to calm them down. These children have been through so much; they don’t want to hear gunfire anymore.

We play a lot of games with them. Since children love to play, during the break they play on the swing and the slide, even though we have too little room on the playground. But the children have fun, and it helps them forget about what they have been through. In the classrooms we have toys and games that UNICEF provided, so the children play. When the kids are playing, they only think about what they are doing, and it helps keep other thoughts away. It really helps psychologically.

Preschool has a major role that most people forget about. The goal is to give children a foundation for learning – it is not only about playing; children also learn a little writing and reading. Even after they have left my school, I never stop asking their parents how the children are doing, and I get updates all the time.

And many parents say, “Your school really helped.”

“My child is the first in his class,” one parent came and told me. “I have come to thank you.”

If you neglect the basics, the foundations of education, then you cannot have well-educated people and a happy country. So we should look into opening more preschools, not only in Bangui but everywhere else in the country, and have good teachers there. If we do that, a few years from now, we’ll have well-educated young people, and then there will be no more rebel groups.

A woman sits at a desk, looking at the camera, her hands folded on the desktop
© UNICEFAs headmistress, Florence has more than doubled the enrollment in her preschool since the conflict. She won’t turn anyone away, even though her school is way beyond capacity.

If you look into it, if you take 100 rebels, you will see that most of them have not studied long. They dropped out of school; some of them stopped going to school because they were failing, others simply never went to school, and this is a problem for the country. So that is why we should open preschools everywhere in the country, have good teachers, and give kids an education from an early age. Then we can have peace.

If we do not do that, we will just talk and talk and talk, and there never will be a solution. People need an education. Children need to get an education, and early childhood education is laying a foundation for everything.

 

Florence Walikete is the headmistress of a preschool in Bangui’s Fifth Arrondissement.

Read more about the importance of early childhood learning and development

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