To help repatriated children from Tanzania as Gerard to reintegrate and succeed in school, UNICEF with the support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) funds, has set up catch-up classes in 139 schools in Makamba.
Elisa Revert Santamaría
At ECOFO Nyanza-Lac III, we meet Arsene Gerard BIGIRIMANA, 17, enrolled in the seventh year of secondary school. His classmates are somewhat younger than him as he had to join a lower grade than expected for his age. But this is not because Gerard is a bad pupil, and much less because he doesn’t like to study; but behind every pupil there is a story, and Gerard shares his with us.
This young Burundian lived for two years in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania with his family. His parents decided to move there in 2018 in search of a better life: “My parents decided to go to Tanzania looking for work, and my siblings and I went with them. We are 5 girls and 3 boys of scaled ages”, Gerard explains.
Gerard’s family has settled in the Nyarugusu refugee camp, located in the Kigoma region, 150 km from Lake Tanganyika. In recent years, the camp has been hosting mainly Burundian refugees fleeing their country, especially since the beginning of the political crisis in 2015.
Gerard’s father quickly found a job in the area, but not his mother. She stayed at home doing housework and taking care of Gerard’s younger siblings. “I made friends quickly, but school in Tanzania was not easy for me at the beginning. In Tanzania, my brothers and I went to school. It was difficult for me to follow the courses because I had to study in Swahili and English, and I didn’t know either language. I had to learn these languages, it was the only way to understand the lessons, but I was still very far behind”, remembers Gerard.
For his parents too, life in Tanzania was difficult: “Living in a refugee camp was difficult for the whole family, there were days when we didn’t t have enough food for all of us.”
For all these reasons, but especially for the learning difficulties they had at school, in 2020, Gérard’s family returned to Burundi and settled on Bukeye 1 hill, in the commune of Nyanza-Lac, Makamba province. Once back, Gerard was very happy to meet his old friends again and feels comfortable. He integrated now ECOFO Nyanza-Lac III.
Gerard, and two of his brothers, like other children repatriated from Tanzania, attend catch-up courses, which facilitate their learning and integration. His other sisters also follow this type of course, but in another school of the area.
To help migrant children reintegrate and succeed in school, UNICEF Burundi, with the support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) funds, through its implementing partner War Child Holland, has set up such catch-up classes in 139 schools in Makamba province. Around 16,000 children like Gerard have attended these courses in French and Kirundi since the beginning of 2022.
“I had lost a bit my command of French because I didn’t practice it in Tanzania, but with the cutch-up classes, I have improved this language and it allows me to follow the other courses and be at the same level of knowledge as my classmates. The reinforcement courses have not only helped me improve French and Kirundi but have also helped me make progress in my learning of other subjects taught in these two languages”, says Gerard very enthusiastically. He confided to us that his favorite subjects are the Technology and the Entrepreneurship. These subjects will certainly be useful to him, as his dream is to become a doctor.
According to Lyduine NIYONGENDAKO, Headmistress of ECOFO Nyanza-Lac III, the school has enrolled 291 repatriates from Tanzania between the ages of 6 and 14: “they follow the same educational system as other pupils; they just have the additional catch-up courses”, she explains.
Repatriated children are identified by the child protection committees, the local administration or the school management committees: “Children have to present their birth certificate in order to be able to be enrolled in school, so most of the time, it is the Administration that informs us that these children are repatriated, and we act accordingly”.
To ensure that children are progressing well, the school management also maintains direct contact with the parents. *”We have even created WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with them, report on the children performance in class and inform parents on their children’s progress. There is a good cooperation between the school management and the parents in this sense,” *conclude the Headmistress.
Source: UN Children’s Fund