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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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."
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.