International Partnerships

Young mothers continue their education in Chad

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Sleeping on warm blankets, the babies don’t seem to notice the heat and laughter coming from the school playground outside. They have already sung songs, played, and listened to tales inside the cozy shaded room. They are safe.

Their mothers might come along during the morning to feed them till, in the afternoon, classes finish, and it's time to go home.

In refugee and local communities across the Chad, thousands of girls are forced to drop out of school due to early marriages and pregnancies. With limited assistance from their husbands and public institutions, these women will face lifelong struggles to maintain a job, feed their children and care of their families.

Young mother and child

To provide the young mothers of Chad with a chance at a better life - for themselves and for their children - a programme run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Chad and the UNHCR is providing young mothers with child care and other supports to ensure they can continue their education.

This nursery is situated beside the primary and secondary school in Kounoungou refugee camp in Eastern Chad. The camp mainly hosts Sudanese citizens fleeing conflict in Darfur and, as other camps in the east, benefits from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) support, in collaboration with ECW’s partners. Nurseries inside educational centres in the camps have been providing young mothers with day care options, implemented by JRS and UNHCR since 2012.

Classroom in Chad
Copyright: UNICEF/Chad/Kim

Safe spaces - such as these nurseries within the educational centres - help young mothers and teachers to go to school, while their children are cared-for nearby. More than 42 babies are brought to both rooms in the Kounoungou camp every school day. 

Raouda, one of the three assistants in the primary school nursery, walks among the children, airplanes, dolls and puzzle pieces scattered over colourful carpets in the nursery. Living in the camp since 2004, she has been working in the nursery for over nine years:

What motivates me is to help girls and teachers to do their work. Education is very important for the girls, since it allows them to be educated and to educate their children.
- Raouda

Mourra is 22 years old and dreams one day of becoming a doctor. Like many other women here, she has lived in the camp for over ten years now. She is in the fourth year of her high school studies. Mourra's son was born in 2019. Without the support from the programme, Mourra would probably not have made it this far.

The nursery really helped me to continue my studies
- Mourra
Raouda shows some of the toys they use to play with children
Raouda shows some of the toys they use to play with the children - Copyright: JRS WAF and GL, photo Irene Galera
Aicha rests with her son in the nursery
Aicha rests with her son in the nursery - Copyright: JRS WAF and GL, photo Irene Galera

Aicha, 32, juggles teaching five hours a day at the school with her responsibilities as a mother of five. She works the same hours as a man, but domestic duties wait for her in the afternoon. It is difficult to find a moment to rest since she must also prepare for the next day’s class at home. She had to go back to work 45 days after giving birth to her youngest son. “It wasn’t enough because he is too small,” she says.

The nursery helps me a lot since my mind is calm while I work. I leave my baby here and I am sure that he is safe and well cared for.
- Aicha

She can now work for two hours, breastfeed her son on the class-break, and go back with her students normally.

Both Aicha and Raouda would like more investment in the centres. They find the space is too small and there is a need for toys and blankets to help their babies to rest and enjoy everything to the utmost while waiting for their mothers. 

A girl washes her hands before going into class in Kounoungou refugee camp
A girl washes her hands before going into class in Kounoungou refugee camp - Copyright: JRS WAF and GL, photo Irene Galera
An ECW funded water point in Djabal refugee camp
An ECW funded water point in Djabal refugee camp - Copyright: JRS WAF and GL, photo Irene Galera

Education Cannot Wait has also contributed to primary and secondary schools within refugee camps in Eastern Chad through the rehabilitation of classrooms, the distribution of school stationery and desks, as well as the implementation of several water and sanitation projects. In 2020, ECW’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak backed the construction of new water tanks and latrines in the schools, a key investment to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Aicha and Raouda would like more investment in the centres - as a long-term emergency, refugee camps in Chad face a reduction of the funds that permit the continuation of crucial projects as the nurseries. Both women find the space is too small and there is a need for toys and blankets to help their babies to rest and enjoy everything to the utmost while waiting for their mothers.

Original Story published by Education Cannot Wait