Welcome to Ardamata IDP School.
Located 25 minutes outside of the West Darfur capital of El Geneina, the school serves children who were forced to flee their homes with their families and seek refuge in Ardamata camp for internally displaced people (IDP).
Life in Darfur's IDP camps can be oppressive. Opportunities to grow food or earn money are almost nonexistent, forcing camp residents to rely heavily on outside aid. Tensions can also run high with permanent residents who may resent services being provided to displaced Darfuris living in camps and not to all people living in the surrounding community. At times, the crowded, transient conditions lead to crime and violence, with displaced families having little protection.
Ardamata is one of the better camps in West Darfur. Its location outside the town center does make it more difficult for camp residents to earn a living, because markets are farther away and few employers seek day laborers in the area. But the more remote location means more space is available. Each family has sufficient room to build a traditional hut or two in its small compound, with thatched fences separating each plot.
Shreds of Hope
At the center of the camp is a place of hope: Ardamata IDP School. Some of the residents of Ardamata camp never attended school in their former villages. Others are thrilled to continue their education even as their lives are turned upside down.
"I'm happy because now I know how to read and write and tell the difference between good and bad," says Asha Mohamed, a 30-year-old sixth-grade student who started school for the first time five years ago, having nothing else to do when she arrived at the camp. Her 12-year-old son also attends Ardamata IDP School and will be entering seventh grade this year.
More than 1,000 children crowd into the school's 17 classrooms—with each class having anywhere from 50 to 100 girls or boys. The kids don't mind sitting shoulder to shoulder on mats as there is no room or money for benches, much less desks. They're even willing to share each textbook among four or five students. But when school opened this term, they had no protection from the sun, wind or occasional swirling sand because their classrooms' thatched walls were hanging in shreds around them.
"School is opening, but there are still problems with the classrooms," notes Yusif Haroun Adam, the acting head of the parent-teacher association for Ardamata IDP school. "They are very crowded classrooms, and we have no materials to fix them. School is going good, but we would like permanent classrooms."
Ardamata IDP School, like many others serving displaced students in Darfur, is a temporary school expected to be disbanded when peace allows camp residents to return home. For this reason, classrooms at these schools are constructed with simple poles and walls of woven grass thatch instead of more permanent concrete. Creating plenty of headaches, the thatch walls require replacement each season after wind, wear and hungry donkeys reduce them to tatters.
In recent weeks, the Ministry of Education has been working with UNICEF and aid agencies including Catholic Relief Services to help refurbish temporary classrooms across El Geneina. It will take some time, though, to collect the materials required for the necessary repairs.
Helping More Than 32,400 Students Receive an Education
Since 2005, CRS' education team has supported more than 65 schools in West Darfur. Key activities have included:
- building more than 385 classrooms
- training volunteer teachers
- organizing and supporting PTAs
- building kitchens and storage rooms so schools can participate in World Food Program's school feeding initiative
- providing water tanks and simple hand-washing stands
- training students and cooks in good hygiene
- teaching cooks to build industrial-sized fuel-efficient stoves
These efforts have helped more than 32,400 students in West Darfur to receive an education.
"Sitting mats are better than benches or desks because it's too crowded. If you are in the first rows, you can hear well, but not if you're at the back," explains 16-year-old student Daresalaam Abakar Adam, who will be in the sixth-grade class with Asha and 72 other girls. "I want to learn. It's important I get knowledge."
For now, displaced children in Darfur will attend school in the open air, shielding their eyes from the sun and sand. But at least they will learn. And they'll continue to dream of better futures.
Debbie DeVoe is CRS' regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa. She recently met with the PTA and students of Ardamata IDP School.