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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Helping displaced children go back to school in Sudan

Sudan hosts more than 3.7 million refugees and internally displaced people. Resources in the hosting areas are overstretched, food supplies are running low, and education and health services are under-resourced. 

Formal schools are often overcrowded, and government support has dwindled. The economic crisis in Sudan means even less money for education. Skyrocketing inflation means that parents struggle to afford school fees.

With EU humanitarian support, our partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), implements a project benefitting 11,000 students and 180 teachers in Sudan.

NRC distributes school materials and rehabilitates school buildings – including the upgrading of restrooms and handwashing facilities, to allow for the safe re-opening of the schools during COVID-19.

Before its rehabilitation, the green colour of the walls was the only way to distinguish Al Salam Village School from the surrounding brown mud houses.

Classrooms were crammed with up to 100 children at a time. A door and four small windows were the only sources of ventilation and light. As a result, children piled up in the darkness to attend class.

“The school was falling apart,” says Siddiga, a teacher at the Al Salam Village School in the outskirts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum.  

“Classrooms would be so full that students had to attend by listening through the window while standing outside in the sun. Those who found a spot inside sat on the floor. The blackboards had holes in them, and we couldn’t even write full sentences.”

Children in doorway of the school
© Mathilde Vu, NRC.

Children now have larger classrooms, new restrooms, school supplies, benches, desks and chairs. Freshly-painted walls display key health and hygiene messages.

Apart from school materials, the NRC also provides female students with hygiene kits with locally-produced, reusable sanitary pads.

The economic inflation in Sudan has made it especially difficult for girls to attend school consistently while on their periods. Sanitary products are usually imported, expensive, and inaccessible to most girls.

Some girls resort to using rags, which cause strong odours, infections and long-term health issues. Young women find themselves struggling to navigate school and health, which is compounded by the social stigma of menstruation.

Children receiving school materials
© Mathilde Vu, NRC.

“A lot of my female students cannot attend every month when they’re menstruating. Not just because of the pain, but also due to the embarrassment they feel,” says Siddiga.

In previous years, her classroom was like a rotating cast of empty chairs with girls consistently absent every month. “But the hygiene kits have changed this. So now, the absences of the girls have significantly decreased,” she says.

Research suggests that students need to be comfortable to learn effectively. Yet, for schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, like Al Salam Village School, many children are pressured to work tiring days in the markets after school to help their families.

Improving the school environment has helped boost the children’s motivation and engagement. The project has transformed the classroom into a comfortable, safe place to absorb knowledge, dream and play.

As the population continues to swell around the edges of Khartoum, initiatives like this will continue to play a crucial role in shaping education outcomes for children affected by displacement.

Story by Rawan Kara, NRC. Photos: Mathilde Vu, NRC.
Publication date: 24/01/2022