From packed classrooms to indefinite school closures, COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted the lives of school children all around the world. Parents and teachers have been scrambling to work out solutions to keep kids learning during these turbulent times. 

But children in some places such as the Qoloji camp in the Somali region of Ethiopia are no strangers to being out of school. Violence and multiple humanitarian disasters over the course of several years including locust outbreaks, severe flooding, and most recently, conflict in the Tigray region  have led to mass displacement, with the majority seeking refuge in temporary camps. 

When 22-year-old Misra arrived at the Qoloji camp in eastern Ethiopia with her two children, she didn’t have plans to become a teacher. “My plan was to continue my education until I got my PhD but after the conflict broke out, everything changed.”

 

Portrait of 22 year old Misra, an IDP in Ethiopia's Qoloji camp, standing in front of a makeshift classroom
“The journey [to Qoloji] was long and scary,” says Misra, who is now teaching elementary classes to 2nd and 3rd graders at the camp. “Fortunately, the community [at the camp] is very supportive, and have welcomed me in doing this work.”
Photo: Mekbib Tadesse/IRC

Through funds from the European Union, the IRC has established temporary learning spaces in Qoloji, providing essential materials for displaced children to keep them in school, and training teachers. 

Misra is one of these teachers. Teaching Somali and English to elementary school children in the camp, she is enthusiastic about her role in the community. “I wanted to support children who no longer had access to proper education,” she says. “I believe that it’s one of the ways to give back to a community that has been through a lot.”

Misra standing in front of her tent with her children
Misra’s only family members at the camp are her 7-year old daughter Ubah and her 4-year old son Abdulwasser. She feels protective towards other children as a result. “I feel bad because they’ve been through a lot,” she says. “[That’s why] I enjoy teaching children. I love that I’m contributing to their futures.”
Photo: Mekbib Tadesse/IRC

Before COVID-19 forced schools in Ethiopia to close, Misra would make breakfast for her children and get them ready for school. After dropping them off, she would prepare her lesson plans and teach classes during the day.

But since the first few cases of COVID-19 were announced in the country, students and teachers have been forced to stay at home. “Staying isolated and not knowing what is going to happen to me and my children is stressful,” says Misra. “Students have a hard time following up with their studies. Before COVID, we used to have up to 150 children in one class now we’re allowed a maximum of 25.”

The restrictions have made it difficult to create a proper class schedule that ensures that all students can have access to education as they did before. But Misra is determined to keep going, despite the hurdles thrown her way. 

Misra in front of a blackboard while teaching her students
Misra is proud of her efforts as a teacher, especially when she can see the results in her students. “It makes me happy seeing them read and knowing that I helped them improve their skills,” she says.
Photo: Mekbib Tadesse/IRC

To motivate her students and keep them focused, Misra uses teaching aid materials and alternative techniques during her lessons. “I usually teach them through storytelling,” she says. “I start classes with funny stories that [keep them] engaged and make them pay attention throughout.” She also gives lessons to students who struggle to read at the same level as their classmates, in hopes of encouraging them to continue learning. 

Part of the programme in Qoloji includes protection against gender-based violence. Misra has noticed a gradual shift in attitude towards the role of women in her community. “For a while, women were expected to do household tasks, or to get married and start a family at a young age.”

Misra teaching in a classroom with her students answering questions
Misra believes that girls in her community need constant support from their families and communities in order to thrive. “Girls need mentors who can guide and [support] them in getting an education,” she says.
Photo: Mekbib Tadesse/IRC

“Now, people are aware that education is important for all children including girls, to become successful and support their families. More girls are getting the opportunity to go to school, so I believe things are changing for the better.”

Her passion for paving a better path for her students is clear in her hopes for her own children. “We are in this place by chance," she says, looking lovingly over them. "But I see them in a better place, with more opportunities in life.” 

The dreams she has for her students stretch far and wide. “I hope to see them grow up to become doctors and engineers, and to give back to their communities,” says Misra, beaming with pride. “I see a bright future for all of them.”

Misra in her temporary home, laughing with her children
Not being able to pursue her own dreams of getting a PhD has only made Misra more determined that future generations should have these opportunities. “Even though life is tough right now, I have hope that our future will be better,” she says. “We are motivating our children to reach their dreams.”
Photo: Mekbib Tadesse/IRC

Despite all the challenges she’s faced including the obstacles COVID-19 has thrown her way Misra’s outlook towards the future is bright. “Hope is the biggest motivation for me,” she says, a look of determination in her eyes. “The pandemic and our current situation is temporary. I believe that there are better days ahead of us."

About European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

The International Rescue Committee partners with the European Union to provide life-saving support to people caught in conflict and disasters around the world. Our work funded by the EU through the Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO) enables people to survive, recover and rebuild their lives.