Education Continues Despite Fighting in Chad

Breaking news from our on-the-ground partner CORD's Anne Goddard about the recent fighting in Chad and its impact on education programs in the refugee camps. The programs continue, and we still need your support.

Following the recent troubles in Chad, I am pleased to say that the work carries on. As is usual in times of great instability, some of the expatriate and national staff are evacuated from the country or returned to their homes, leaving a skeleton staff to carry on the work. This reduces the risk to life and property, while maintaining minimal, but essential service.

I am confident that my national staff in Bredjing and Treguine camps will be able to carry on a good and professional work. They have been with the programme since the start, speak the language better than I do and understand the culture better than I ever will. I have every confidence in them, but am naturally worried for their and their families’ safety at a time of great instability. It is a traumatic time for everyone and I am constantly aware that fighting in their country affects them more deeply than it can ever affect me.

Of course, many people forget that this is the third time in two years that we have experienced an evacuation. On the two previous occasions, I remained in Chad as part of the volunteer emergency skeleton staff. My Chadian team did a wonderful job on those occasions of keeping the education programme moving forward, while I stayed in Abéché in the temporary role of oversight of the whole project. The Sudanese also decided among themselves that although it was very worrying to see so many of the NGO staff leave, they wanted to carry on with the schools. I returned to find little disruption — but we were certainly pleased to see each other again.

However, this is the most serious fighting that we have experienced so far, with widespread implications of disruption to all areas of life. We hope that it will soon pass, but are prepared for a lengthy period of trouble, where we will have to change our plans and change them again, according to the daily reports of the location of the fighting. It is important to maintain stability in the refugee camps where there are 250,000 Sudanese and I am sure that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will be doing everything possible to ensure the safe passage of essential supplies to the camps — plus the continued safety of those who work there.

Under normal circumstances, education is not considered as an essential service in a refugee camp. However, during the last serious outbreak of violence in November 2006, UNHCR stated that education was something that they wanted to see carry on at all costs in the camps. The reason for this is that it helps maintain the stability and the morale of the community. Therefore, we remain confident that every effort will be made to support us in the work.

In many ways, such troubles can also help to strengthen the resolve of the Sudanese. We have an evacuation plan for our workers under such circumstances, but they also have their own evacuation plan — a plan that they put into effect should we have to leave for any length of time. They know that wages will continue to be paid and when the security situation allows, we will return to our normal programme of visiting and training. A refugee camp is a place where a culture of dependency can quickly smother the creative spirit of the most capable adult. In times like this, a positive result can be the collective will of the community to carry on because they know that education is one of the lifelines that will help vulnerable people escape long-term poverty.

For my part, although I have had to leave Chad, it is not a time where I sit down and wring my hands; it is a time where I can speak to people about the work. I have already done a television, radio and several newspaper interviews. This raises awareness of the work and highlights the suffering of so many people. It is a time to look to the future and to make plans that can be effected the minute I return to the country, so that any disruption can be minimised. It is a time where I put myself at the disposal of the UK office, so that I can give support to those still working on the field. Because I have been part of the emergency skeleton staff in the past, I understand the pressures and can give advice where necessary. We have to order certain materials outside of Chad in any event, and it is no trouble to hold those goods outside the country until we can be sure that a window of opportunity will ensure their safe transit to those who are so desperately in need.

However, we look together for the first available opportunity to return to Chad. Although it may appear to be an unworkable situation, with the correct procedures and a good team spirit, it is quite possible to continue a highly effective programme.

My own experience of evacuation was not as harrowing as many of those reported. I was staying at a small guesthouse in N’djamena and was waiting for my flight to Abéché after returning from a holiday in the UK. Unfortunately, the fighting beat me to it and I found myself spending the best part of a day lying on the floor of my room with fierce fighting in the streets outside. I am extremely grateful that the place was not looted, as were so many and we experienced no violence at the hands of armed men. When it became clear that the fighting was going to continue, we took our chance and sought refuge in the French military base. We were quickly evacuated by the French army to Gabon and then to France and I shall remain forever grateful for their skill, efficiency and hospitality.

Anne Goddard
Programme Manager for Education
Bredjing & Treguine Camps and Chadian Community