In a refugee camp it is challenging to go to school, especially for girls and young women who have children. In Liberia, Finn Church Aid (FCA) is running two secondary schools for Ivorian refugees. FCA has established arrangements that support girls’ access to education.
Girls Club is the place for mutual support
The girls and young women in Bahn refugee camp secondary school have started their own club, Girls Club. Girls are happy to attend the Club, as the gatherings give a weekly opportunity to share concerns and talk about any issue.
Refugee girls have similar questions in their mind as girls anywhere else: challenges at school and at home, friends and relations, health, sex and pregnancy. Some of the girls don’t have parents with them in the camp, which emphasizes the importance of older girls’ support to the younger girls. At Girls Club they can speak freely, as the boys are not invited.
The need for mutual support is high among refugees. Most refugees have experienced or seen violence. Many have lost family members or friends. Some have fled from their country all alone. For many refugees, going back home to Ivory Coast is not an option yet. Home-sickness and dreams or nightmares about going back are still lingering in their minds.
When it comes to health and hygiene, the conditions of a refugee camp are difficult. Finn Church Aid supports the Girls Club by providing hygiene kits, which contain soap, sanitary pads and other accessories that are not usually available in a refugee camp.
Bahn refugee camp secondary school was opened in 2012. In January 2014 Finn Church Aid opened another secondary school in Grand Gedeh County, in PTP refugee camp. The concept of Girls Club has been adopted also at PTP camp school.
Day care center for the children of the students
In September 2013, Finn Church Aid opened a day care center within the secondary school campus in Bahn refugee camp. Six months later it is clear that day care service has encouraged young mothers to attend classes.
The day care is run mostly by the grandmothers, but the mothers themselves are also present between classes, so that they can play with their children and feed them. Some mothers also bring their babies to the dining hall to attend school feeding.
There is need for day care, because many of the girls become mothers at very young age. Lacking a safe place to leave their children for the day, the young mothers used to bring their babies to classes with them, or just simply stay at home with the baby. Some mothers came to school only occasionally and some dropped out. Now, thanks to the day care service, many of these girls are back to school.
In general, teenage pregnancies are very common in the region, both in Liberia and Ivory Coast. One out of four teenage girls in Bahn camp becomes pregnant. In other refugee camps in Liberia the numbers are about the same. Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA) provides reproductive health care In Bahn camp, including family planning and the use of contraception.
Results from the day care have been encouraging at Bahn camp school, so FCA started a day care center also within the secondary school established at PTP refugee camp in Grand Gedeh County. Thanks to the arrangement, it is possible for the mothers to combine school and premature motherhood.
I can go to school without worrying about my child
Evodie Bloa Sehi, 24, lives in Bahn refugee camp in Liberia with her parents and her 1-year-old son. Evodie had to flee from Ivory Coast in August 2011 due to the political unrest in her home country.
Having a small baby, Evodie stayed out of school for a year. Her family moved in Bahn camp in October, and she got back to school. The day care center within the school campus makes it easier to start school again. “We can go to school without worrying for our children, as the day care center is right next to the school building” Evodie tells.
The number of girls going to school has been constantly rising since the daycare center was opened in September 2013. “It is good to have the school here – otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to do!” Evodie laughs.
Like most girls of Bahn camp school, Evodie goes to Girls Club on Wednesdays. “The Girls Club is like our family. Everyone can share their opinions, and we can find solutions together to the problems,” Elodie explains. “We also try to encourage other girls to come to school,” Evodie tells.
Prisca Nian Glouali, 24, is attending Bahn camp secondary school run by Finn Church Aid. “It is good to have a school here, as it keeps us busy and we learn new things every day,” Prisca says. “Especially for us girls it is important to build our skills and knowledge. We need to take over our parents, and not be a burden for them or for our husband.”
Prisca is the president of the Girls Club. The girls of the Bahn camp school gather together at Girls Club to talk about topics that they need to share. Often times there are discussions about relations and pregnancy.
“We also organize recreational days with food and music. That is for encouraging all girls to come to school,” Prisca tells.
Prisca dreams of becoming flight attendant or working in finance sector. “We need to attend classes even if we have challenges in life. We need to fight for our future today,” she says.
Adelie Naman Youan, 23, had to flee from Ivory Coast in June 2011. Last July she moved to Bahn refugee camp with her 2-year-old son.
Adelie dropped out from school when her baby was born. Now, in Bahn camp she is back to school. It is possible thanks to the day care center, where she can take her son the while attending classes.
Also school feeding motivates the students to come to school, especially those who have small children. Without school feeding, many young mothers would have to spend their days trying to earn money for living. “I need to take care of my son,” Adelie says. “If I could not go to school, I would most probably be selling some small articles, like water, on the streets of the refugee camp.”
These arrangements organized by FCA are crucial support for young mothers’ education.
Ingride Dekpea, 23, is one of the Ivorian refugees attending to Bahn camp school. Ingride lives by herself, with her 5-year-old son. The family will be bigger in a couple of months, as Ingride is pregnant.
After fleeing from Ivory Coast, Ingride lived in Liberian communities that are hosting Ivorians. Last year the refugees were gathered to camps, and also Ingride moved to Bahn refugee camp.
Two years ago Ingride got back to school, after not attending classes for a long time. Now, she is happy to go to classes at the FCA-run secondary school. “No-one respects you if you don’t go to school,” Ingride says with a serious face. “I’m thankful for having the opportunity to go back to school.”
Text: Henrik Fosseldorff, Anaïs Marquette and Ulla Tarkka
Photos: Anaïs Marquette