“The hardest day was when I first arrived in the camp. When I first started teaching here, we had just two tents for all the children and no supplies.”
Life for teachers like Babaganesha in the Lake Chad Basin hasn’t been easy for the last few years. The conflict has had a huge impact on the already fragile education systems of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Thousands of schools have been closed, damaged, looted, set on fire or used to shelter displaced persons, mostly in North-East Nigeria and Cameroon.
Many teachers fear to return to the classroom and parents are often scared to send their children back to school. Insecurity and attacks have kept thousands of children out of the classrooms for more than a year, putting them at risk of dropping out of school altogether.
And yet education is an essential ingredient for a lasting solution to the crises in Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin. In times of crisis, education can offer a child stability, protection and the chance to gain critical knowledge and skills, and having good teachers in place is a key part of this.
Babaganesha and Haruna were both teachers before the crisis began, but life as a teacher became increasingly fraught as Boko Haram’s violence continued. Schools and teachers were often in danger of becoming a target themselves.
Babaganesha was forced to flee his home in Monguno after Boko Haram insurgents arrived in his town. After hiding from the militants for almost two weeks, surviving on his limited supply of food and water, he was able to escape under cover of darkness and make the 275km journey to find his family in Maiduguri. The journey was incredibly difficult, but being reunited with his family and getting back into the classroom has given him a renewed focus and hope for the future.
When Babaganesha first arrived in the camp the situation was very different to now. Supplies were radically limited, and many of the children, still dealing with the trauma they’d experienced, were either unable to concentrate in class or not coming to school at all.
“Sometimes you may be explaining something to one of the children, but you can tell their mind is elsewhere, thinking about what happened to them” says Haruna.
The teachers also take their work outside the classroom, speaking to parents of children who are out of school in an effort to convince them of the benefits of education.
“We try to tell them, to convince them, and some do cooperate. But for some families, education is not a priority. They’re busy trying to find food, or finding a way to return home” says Haruna.
While it may be difficult, both the men believe that, with education, their students can begin to deal with the trauma they experienced and begin to rebuild their lives.
UNICEF has helped nearly 90,000 children across north-east Nigeria back into education. When no existing school rooms are available, UNICEF sets up safe, temporary learning spaces.
“As long as we give them education, they will forget all that happened. If they concentrate and work hard I believe they are going to have a good choice in life” says Babaganesha.
Education can protect and guide children who have risked everything in search of safety, and provide them with a path to a brighter future. Without access to education, children face exclusion.