August 2017 - Chad
“Now…” says GK, “I can read my name, read whatever is written on the page of a newspaper. I no longer feel lost.” The classroom she has just left to offer her testimony is a part of the school building that is not far from central Goré in the South of Chad. Inside the classroom, the instructor is scribing on the blackboard the basics of French orthography, putting the “accents” on vowels while waiting for the participants to finish writing to answer the questions. The participants raise their hands and snap their fingers showing their notebooks to the instructor. Their enthusiasm and sheer energy, considering the age group most of the learners belong to, indicate that any concern with age is not a barrier when it comes to pursuing education.
Literacy classes constitute a core component of the extensive programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany and implemented by RET International in Chad. They serve as an effective tool that enables refugees and host community members to consolidate the capacity to survive and navigate the social sphere. Fundamental education is what other components of operations across the country can hope to build on – including the DAFI Scholarship RET manages since 2012, supporting young people to continue their education in universities.
RET International entered the beautiful yet fragile land of diverse cultures and communities that is the Republic of Chad back in 2005, in the wake of the Darfur crisis. RET’s programmes aimed at providing formal and nonformal education to youth in regions that accommodate several other NGOs and UN Agencies, achieved remarkable results. The peace-building programme funded by the German Foreign Office is implemented in the South of the country which accommodates refugees coming mainly from the Central African Republic.
“RET’s arrival has changed the face of the situation here. As for literacy classes; our sisters and brothers didn’t know how to read and write, they didn’t know how to calculate. But now, they can speak French, they know how to read and write”, Djoulai Bogama, The President of the Camp of Amboko summarizes the achievements.
The programme’s abundance of components and approaches, ranging from establishing “Peace Clubs” to various modes of life-skills training, from Sports Events to discussions, consolidate a comprehensive “toolbox” that allows RET to penetrate every stratum of the target communities, concretising achievements on many levels.
In another classroom setting, now toward the North of the town, the solemn concentration of the participants of the literacy class is replaced by an expressive joy, a passion to share and to contribute. As RET’s facilitator strolls the aisles of the classroom moderating the discussion, hands are raised to convey observations, opinions, emotions and experiences in local language.
Building on the fact that interactions are key to social cohesion, discussions serve as a means to bridge the gaps between communities, social groups, families and individuals. Their subjects can vary from inter-community issues to health problems and risks, generational gaps to consequences of bad practices.
“RET doesn’t work on paper. RET goes to the refugees and they put refugees and locals together to discuss the source of conflict” Ngaba Korndoh Rodrigue, Representative of the Central Committee of the Youth explains, emphasizing the scale and the inclusiveness of the practice.“RET works with all categories of refugees, there are many things that have changed since RET’s arrival…”
The ‘Everyday Component’
Harnessing the power of communications is not only limited to discussions. The programme also uses performing arts and the creative impetus. The building where the Youth Council congregates is home to the town’s Youth Theatre Group founded as a part of the programme, whose activities aim conflict resolution.
Dialogue, on the other hand, doesn’t have to transpire only between groups of people tied together by roots or identity. It’s not functional to ignore the necessity of opening the channels for inter-generational dialogue – a type that can be even more challenging to establish.
“It’s great to be able to talk to children and youth (about their problems)” expresses Professor Dima Daniel, teacher of Animal biology who fled Central African Republic. “We discuss for example, the subject of early marriages, the consequences of it… which will be an obstacle for those who marry early, having no idea of what marriage is. We for example discuss how to live in peace with others”.
Designed to diagnose and solve problems on a base level, and to tackle important issues, this particular strand of communications allows the youth to understand and solve the problems at present and see the tasks ahead. The approach is also aligned with RET’s core principle of regarding youth as an actor of peace and leaders of their communities.
On the other hand, it’s another fact that no matter the intensity and the inclusiveness of the dialogue, if the interactions fail to create a ‘ripple effect’ across the society, it is difficult to ensure genuine social cohesion on grassroots level.
“Each afternoon, the youth gather in groups in certain places to discuss or to simply play football” says Benedict KORNDOH, the President of the Women Council, implying the everydayness of the interaction. “Now they (members of the host community and refugees) go to the hospital, to the school, to the town together.”
As she implies, football or other sports games have a specific meaning for the youth. In instances that concern women, the spirit of sisterhood functions the same way to cultivate bonds: “When I go to the market and if I don’t have money that day, I can say (to my friend), ‘Sister, will you lend me some?”
This “communal” spirit that marks celebrations, sports games, feasts and even daily chores stand as a proof to the sustainability and the effectiveness of the project and its being claimed by its target groups. This also constitutes the reason why RET Participants, whenever asked for an account of their experiences, are eager to point out to the benefits of “dialogue”. The interactions RET encourages are, in the end, designed to splash beyond the regulated settings of the classroom, onto the agora, onto real-life, to become a motif of the mundane.
Education in the fundamental sense is inarguably indispensable to the labour of developing self-reliance in youth. In this regard, literacy and numeracy classes along with their “elder cousin”, the DAFI scholarships programme, are vital to RET’s work in Chad.
However, it’s only through interactive components that encourage bona fide exchange and speaking of minds, strength can be built. The programme funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany ensures, daring to go all the way down to the micro, to foment back the macro, lasting and above all, sustainable results.
Of course, like everything else, continuous labour should be fermented with patience and a respect for the detailed course of the process. As Sanglare Filomene, a community relay working for RET puts it: “It’s always with time. Nothing happens in a moment”.