School in the middle of a conflict

The widespread violence that has been going on for months in Central African Republic already fills the characteristics of an ethnic cleanse. At least 700 000 people have fled their homes, and in the refugee camps located in the surrounding areas of the capital Bangui lives around 150 000 people.

At the same time, Nicolas Barre’s school tries to keep children grounded in everyday life and offer them an opportunity to go to school daily.

  • Children come daily from surrounding refugee camps to Nicolas Barre school, which is being maintained by Finn Church Aid. Built from a sturdy canvas, the school is modest and it is located in a safe area, in the yard of a private school run by nuns. School is open every weekday from 7.30 am till noon.

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  • In the Nicolas Barre temporary school there are three classes: for the 3-5-year-olds, the 6-11-year-olds, and the 12-15-year-olds. There are 45 children in the youngest age group class. Both of the older age groups have 70 students. Unicef offers the children school packs, which include for example blackboards, chalk, rulers and notebooks. In the photo: teacher trainee Nadège Ngbo with the 3-5-year-olds’ group.

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  • Nadège Ngbo studies pedagogy at St. Paul Deus school and is doing her practical studies at Nicolas Barre school. She guides the 3-5-year-old’s group. According to Ngbo, teaching at Nicolas Barre is not that different from ordinary teaching, but the large group sizes and small children’s lack of concentration are challenges. The youngest age group also has some playtime breaks in addition to the classes.

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  • 13-year-old Jerry Gánafei comes to school every day from the Sica II camp in Bangui. He has been coming to Nicolas Barre since January, when attending the classes at his old school became impossible because of the widespread violence “Going to school is important, because then you can become a doctor when you’re grown up. I would like to learn more mathematics because of that”, he says.

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  • The separation between Christians and Muslims is not seen in the classrooms. Students belonging to different religious groups study together. Girls and boys are not separated either.

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  • Hilarei Dambita,10, moved to the refugee camp from the fifth district of Bangui because of the Anti-Balaka violence. “I liked the old school more than this. But I still come to school every day so that I can learn new things.” Hilarei’s favourite subject is French language. Her future dream profession is being a lawyer.

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  • School teaches mathematics, French, reading and life skills, like hygiene, health education and manners. In the photo the class studies mathematics.

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  • Oliver Romain is collecting his children from the school. His 7- and 8-year-old children’s own school has been closed since the end of last year. Therefore, the children come to school in Nicolas Barre. It is important for Romain that there aren’t any long gaps in the children’s education. Therefore he brings them to school every day.

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These photos are taken in the course of a one school day in April.

There are 1100 children altogether in the schools that are maintained by Finn Church Aid. In addition, FCA repairs and provides equipment for other schools in the area.

Text: Sofia Itämäki and Satu Helin
Photos: Catianne Tijarena