Not long ago, in September, I celebrated my first anniversary in the Central African Republic as a representative of UNICEF. I remember the first sensations I had the day I arrived at Mpoko airport: the humid heat, which would soon turn into torrential rain in anticipation of a warm and expansive town, gave me a nice welcome. Without a doubt, in terms of climate it was a change from my previous assignment in Syria, although not in terms of people and equipment. Fortunately, there are beautiful things in all the places I serve that are kept.
My decision to come to this country was the result of the conviction that, no matter where I am with Unicef, I can join my efforts to improve – even a little and one by one – the lives of girls and boys, their welfare and your rights. I have had the opportunity to travel to many regions of this country, where our teams implement the programs, always being close, physically and emotionally, to the people we have committed to serving.
These trips have offered me the possibility of meeting, discussing, sharing, planning and also laughing with many of our allies, who arrive every day in very difficult places given the logistical and security complications that we face. But, as always, the most gratifying thing is to listen and dialogue with people, especially with children and young people, and relive their stories and how Unicef’s work has improved their lives, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but there is always something good.
As in the case of Michel, recruited for a time by one of the many armed groups in the country, which we help liberate and help them to go back to studying and learning a trade; today he makes a living off the land and raising animals. Michel still has nightmares, horrible nightmares, and some very ungrateful memories that come to mind when he is left doing nothing. He says that learning helps him forget. “That’s why I keep learning and working,” he tells us.
The most gratifying thing is to listen and dialogue with people, as with Michel, recruited for a time by an armed group of the many that exist in the country, which we help to liberate and help them to go back to study and learn a trade
As a representative I have witnessed, through the years and countries, how the school, the essence of the environment it offers and the opportunity to learn —no matter in what form it materializes—, is a powerful instrument to help children. to mitigate the effects of insecurity and conflict in their daily lives.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the Central African Republic are affected by instability and have been forced to leave their homes and become “displaced persons” in search of safer places. Whenever this happens, the school is one of the first victims and is disrupted, depriving the kids of their education.
As soon as we can reach them, we offer them shelter and, as far as possible, we build a tent and turn it into a school; With this they can continue to learn, they can feel a certain normality and they can continue to be children. Sometimes it is not a teacher who gives the classes, but a master-parent, a “teacher-father”, or more commonly a “teacher-mother”, who makes herself available to boys and girls.
The mothers asked me, above all, that the boys and girls have an education, that we open a school, or that they could return to the one that had closed
I remember my last trip to Bouar, in the west of the country, speaking with the displaced. The mothers asked me, above all, that the boys and girls have an education, that we open a school, or that they could return to the one that had closed. They had almost nothing, but they did have the confidence that school is what kids need to grow, learn and be safe, but above all so that no one steals the most important thing from them, childhood, which is where hope lies.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.