”Education cannot be put on hold”

Mahikan Desiree is a 21-year-old young woman from the Ivory Coast, currently living in Liberia. In the essay contest, she writes this about the importance of education in emergencies:

[Essay translated from original French]

Education derives from the word educate, which means to develop a person’s intellectual, moral and physical abilities. Education inculcates good habits and manners. Furthermore, an emergency is a situation that has to be acted upon without delay. In emergencies, care provided during interventions can’t be postponed. Moreover, education during emergencies refers to the training that a person, a population or a nation receives during or after a difficult situation: conflict, war or other natural catastrophes. I cannot be put on hold.

Indeed, the second round of the October elections coincided with the start of the 2010-2011 school year. We had barely started our classes when Ivoirians were called to the polls. After two weeks, the situation was critical in the city of Danane; at our school, teachers and students were confronting and tearing each other apart over preferred and disfavoured political parties. Our school was turned into a battlefield and terrified teachers abandoned their duties and fled home. Students also fled to go back to their villages to be with their parents. When the city of Danane was taken by the rebels, I decided to go back to my village located 65 kilometres away.

No vehicles were circulating, the streets of the city were under rebel control. I left my school identity card and all school documents to walk toward the edge of the city. The rebels were looking for teachers and students because they believed that they were part of the opposition. I left my school identity card and documents and pretended to be a local trader. A rebel allowed me to embark on a merchandise vehicle that had just arrived from Man.

When I arrived at the village, my family had already left for Liberia. I immediately headed toward the border of Ivory Coast and Liberia. When I crossed the river Nuon on November 5, 2010 for Liberia, I could see my future behind me. I didn’t know which saint to worship and I couldn’t stop crying because I had already lost four years of schooling during the 2002 crisis. I didn’t know how long this one was going to last and I didn’t know what had happened to my school.

I arrived in Liberia in despair and was left destitute and traumatized. I had lost everything. Worried, we young Ivorian refugees approached humanitarian NGOs because we desperately wanted to avoid losing more years of schooling. At first things weren’t easy, there weren’t any answers. When the NGOs saw our courage, one of them took the commitment to open a school and to provide the uniforms, school accessories and many other things. I could never thank the NGO Finn Church Aid enough for their help.

The education that was provided during this period of emergency came at the right moment, at a time when the education we so needed was destroyed in front of our eyes. In reality, we had lost everything (house, belongings and education) so to be able to benefit from the education provided by the NGO gave us the opportunity to mend our desperate, lost and hopeless heart. Thus, access to education during emergencies allowed us to be equals to people of our age who live in peace. Furthermore, education will allow us to achieve our place in the sun (be public servants in our country, international and local NGO workers) because it will enable us to find employment and to achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves and our country.

In difficult times, education allows the younger generation to forget the pain and suffering they experienced. To those who are victim of crisis and who are vulnerable, education opens their future to new opportunities. Indeed, us young refugees need to make up the time we have lost. Those who have benefited from education in emergencies may in the future have opportunities to work for NGOs or to be given international scholarship. Education in emergencies has created important people and can offer the same for those who are now experiencing the same situation.

To see us with employment would be a source of pride and honour for Finn Church Aid, the NGO that took the commitment to educate us during this difficult time.

To conclude, it is important to emphasize that education in emergencies is the key to success for those in crisis.

The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies organised a writing contest for children and young people living in the worst humanitarian crises around the world. Participants came from 52 countries. Twelve pieces were selected for publishing from the over 700 entries. Included are the essays of two young refugees from the Ivory Coast, who are living in a refugee camp in Liberia and study in a school supported by Finn Church Aid. This is one of them.