Since 2003, the conflict in Darfur has been a major source of instability for Chad and the region. This conflict resulted in the displacement of thousands of Sudanese and Central Africans to Chad. Most of these populations have found refuge in camps. For over a decade, RET has been involved in the refugee camps located in the Ouaddai and Sila regions in the eastern part of the country, where the refugees from Darfur are in exile. Its intervention has focused on the issue of access to education for young refugees aged 14-25 years, with a special focus on the empowerment of vulnerable young women.
Through trainings and non-formal education, RET helps them to withstand the trauma of war and their situation in exile. More than just a protection tool, education appears as an important factor of resilience, a necessary condition for these young people to succeed in life and have a better future. It is only through education that they may have a chance to become resilient and self-reliant and either integrate into their host society or be able to have a viable future upon return. Their participation in non-formal and formal education has also protected these young refugees from harm’s way, such as recruitment into the rebel groups and continued fighting in Darfur.
Since 2005, over 3,000 Sudanese youth supported by RET’s programmes have received a high school or university diploma, which has in turn significantly reduced early marriage, prostitution, smuggling and recruitment into armed militias.
In this context focusing on young women, adolescent mothers, women heads of households, and young widows is a vital part of our programme when addressing the most vulnerable in times of crisis. However, the logic for focusing on women goes beyond this question of vulnerability; it is also an issue of achieving the greatest impact and effectiveness. Targeting young women has far reaching positive impacts as they are very often at the heart of the family, influence children’s education, play important roles in health, nutrition as well as household management and income. The return on investment of working to protect young women through education is therefore extremely high.
When women are overwhelmingly illiterate and absent from leadership roles, providing education is an integral part of any response that hopes to alter this reality. RET’s response focused on offering literacy classes to young women and encouraging girls to attend secondary school and to take on leadership roles in their communities. And even though much still needs to be done to guarantee all girls’ access to quality education, some Sudanese women in refugee camps have emerged and are becoming more aware of their vulnerable situation in society and are more willing to encourage their daughters to attend school.
An example among those who have successfully managed to integrate socially and professionally, is Sara Ibrahim Isaak. Sara is a Sudanese refugee who arrived at Bredjing, in Eastern Chad in 2005, at the age of 12. In an interview she indicated how “I learned to read for the first time in 2008, and through this non-formal education I was able to then obtain my secondary education diploma and have access to further qualifying education.” She also indicates how receiving this education in the camps allowed her to reinforce her capacities, and be recruited for a position as an Arabic language teacher within the camps. Furthermore she indicated that, “Despite my refugee status, I am able to have a minimum salary that allows me to provide for my family. I have also become a leader in the fight against gender-based violence and I am sought after in all the schools in the camp.”
Empowering young women, as in the case of Sara, is one of our main priorities. The economic issues affecting many refugees, particularly girls, are major concerns as refugees in Eastern Chad have few opportunities to become financially independent. It is through education that these young people can see some hope for their future.
Through RET’s programme in Chad, young Sudanese refugees have been able to build resilience in an otherwise vulnerable situation. Young women like Sara have become successful participants and leaders in their communities, fighting against gender-based violence and discrimination.
Their success shows that non-formal education accompanied by livelihood skills and trainings work. It shows that, given the chance, young people can confront the threats of their fragile environments. Even more, it shows that they can become empowered social actors, which drive positive social change.
This is at the core of what we believe: Young people are not helpless victims or even our beneficiaries, they are our partners and are part of the solution.