“I returned to school to attend classes, but found few students or sometimes no teacher around, so I simply stopped going.” These were the words of Lamata, a young girl from Koro District in Central Mali’s Mopti region. Here, children's education has been severely disrupted since 2012 due to the insecurity in the region. Regional education cluster reportindicate that over 400 schools have been close in the region, compromising the future of thousands of children.
World Vision, a child-centered humanitarian organization present in Mali for over 30 years, had to cease implementation of its education projects in three municipalities (Dinangourou, Yoro and Dioungani) in Koro District due to the insecurity since the beginning of the 2017/18 academic year. The regional education cluster report indicates that extremist groups, forcibly closed 80 primary schools March 2018 alone. The extremist groups view state schools as promoting ‘western’ education and values. In some case’s students were kidnapped and had their school materials destroyed, in others they are prevented from going to school by persons with a similar ideology. Some parents take their children out of school as a precaution due to the uncertainty and fear created by the insecurity.
According to Mr. Adama Dembele, Director of the Educational Animation Center, fondly called D.CAP (Directeur du Centre D’animation Pedagogique), “Insecurity is not new in this area, but armed groups targeting schools and staff is a new trend. It emerged in 2016 during the local election, where because of several incidents, security forces in the area withdrew and became less visible.”
Mr. Dembele added, “On the night of November 22 to 23, 2017, a school director and his assistant were attacked and robbed of personal belongings. In December a school director in Yoro Municipality was ordered to close his school. After that, the decision was made to close 50 schools, compromising the 2017/18 academic year and the future of 7,196 children between the ages of 3 to 18 years.”
As overseer of the 50 school in the 3 affected municipalities, Dinangourou, Yoro and Dioungani, Mr. Dembele admitted, “this was the most difficult decision I have made, during my 20 years in this profession”. In an attempt to mitigate the effect of the closure of school, the Regional Education Department in Koro relocated 78 junior high students to prepare for the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary education) exams, locally called “Diplômé D’Etude Fondamentale” (DEF), in March 2018.
Young Lamata Goro (16), a grade 9 student from Dinangourou, was among relocated students.
I was fortunate enough to meet and exchange with Lamata after she concluded her exam in Koro. During our encounter she was happy to share her past experience, her adaptation to the new school environment and her plans for the future.
“The armed people were in our village since 2012, but last year things got really bad. I failed my school year last year because of the insecurity in my village. The school timetables kept changing. Usually school, starts at 8:00 am and finishes at 12:15 pm, but due to the insecurity, my teacher would often end classes at 10:00am or sometime around 11: 00 am. We use to have 5 days of school, but even that had to change to 4 days, so we had Fridays off. In my previous school neither students nor teachers were comfortable. On one occasion my teacher received a phone call, where the person told him the armed people were coming to the village. After the call, he told us that we had to go home. We were all worried about to get home that day. After that incident, I returned to school to attend classes, but found few students or sometimes no teacher around, so I simply stopped going,” says Lamata, covering mouth with her hands.
Lamata adds that although she was relieved to come to Koro to continue her education having failed last year, at first it wasn’t easy to adapt to the new school environment. “In the new school, I found new teachers and students. At first I had difficulty communicating with the other children, because I don’t speak Bambara. During school breaks I used to stay on my own because I didn’t know any of the children, but in time I made new friends.”
Lamata is the first daughter of a large family. She has 4 brothers and 3 sisters. According to her, her younger brothers and sisters didn’t have the chance to come to Koro to finish their education. “I was encouraged by my father to come to Koro to do the exam and continue my education. Most of my girlfriends back in the village tried to discourage me from going back to school. They either dropped out because of the conflict or got married,” Lamata recounted. “When I grow up I want to become a journalist and work for World Vision. I really thank World Vision and the Director of the Pedagogical Center for the support and wish that others like me receive the same support,” says Lamata with a shy smile.
Lamata is among the seventy-eight (78) students supported by the World Vision Central Mali Emergency Response in March 2018, providing them with a lifesaving kit consisting of food, blackboards, chalk, sanitary pads for girls, sleeping mats, hand wash kits, soap and bleach.
Seventy-five (75) out of seventy-eight (78) students, including Lamata Goro, passed their exam, a success rate of 96%.
As I left Lamata, I was happy and relieved that things had turned out well for her, because she is safe and free to continue her studies. She made new friends, she is fully integrated into her new school environment and she is looking forward to start the next school year.
Education is a fundamental right of a child and should not be violated or compromised because of conflict, disaster or crisis. The situation in Central Mali is worrying and needs to be addressed to prevent thousands more children from being stripped of their right to education.