Monday April 27, 2020

In some places, getting a quality education is a daily challenge.

With a lack of adequate infrastructure, going to school can even mean dodging snakes and sunstroke, rather than simply picking up a pen and paper.

In Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, this is sadly an ongoing reality for many of its children.

Here, communities are struggling with a massive but often overlooked humanitarian crisis. Millions of lives are being shattered by persistent conflict and insecurity, as well as the climate emergency.

Although there have only been 389 cases of coronavirus so far (and 23 deaths), the country is likely to face increasing challenges as the pandemic becomes more severe in Mali.

With a lack of resources and the added pressures of climate change and the pandemic, maintaining something as simple and necessary as a safe school is easier said than done.

Education in Mali: Learning in a makeshift classroom

Mamadou and his classmates had to study outside under a flimsy straw roof.

In the rural village of Siramana in Ouélessebougou, these challenges are all too familiar.

The sun is overbearing. Now, imagine sitting outside, hour after hour, trying to study.

This is the reality for twelve-year-old Mamadou who would study under a straw roof at his school in Siramana.

Just over a year ago, first and second-year students in his village had to take all their lessons out in the open under makeshift shelters.

On the hottest days, the children would fall sick. When it rained they’d have to run home for shelter.

And some days, worse things than rain fell between the gaps in the thatch:

When there was a snake we were afraid and ran away. Sometimes, the roof even fell down.

No one should have to send their child to a school where they aren’t safe.

Yet despite the struggles, Mamadou still loves school. His favourite subject is maths, and when we asked him how he’d feel if there were no school in his village, his brown eyes gleamed:

I like coming to school to learn. If I couldn’t go to school I’d be illiterate. If there was no school here, I’d move to a place where there is a school.

With its crumbling classrooms, dilapidated conditions and poor quality teaching, many families withdrew their children from school. Instead, children helped out at home or supported their parents to earn a living – including at hazardous local mining sites.

Altogether, less than a third of school-aged children in the village were enrolled in school, while some others attended a madrassah (religious school).

Islamic Relief: Swapping straw roofs for fully-furnished classrooms

One of the three fully furnished classrooms constructed by Islamic Relief.

Alhamdulillah, things are different now – not least because Mamadou and his classmates no longer have to study outdoors.

As keen students hurry to their lessons, Mamadou and his classmates are now enjoying the new school building that Islamic Relief built last year.

Of course, the deputy headteacher Sayon Konaté is delighted with the new facilities:

It’s difficult to imagine [now] that children had to study in those dangerous conditions. For a teacher to leave those conditions [behind] and come into a classroom, it brings much joy.

Now the teachers can easily teach, with the right equipment, and all children have a place to sit.

What’s more, as well as building the school and its classrooms, we’ve also installed a solar-powered borehole. We also built a toilet block for boys, and another for girls.

Alhamdulillah, children at the school now also have access to fresh water for drinking and washing, as well as a safe place to learn. With a separate toilet block and these new sanitation facilities, girls have the privacy and resources they need to ensure that they can go to school every day of the month.

Sayon Konaté, deputy head of Siramana school, which is also receiving specialist training to boost the quality of education on offer.

Alhamdulillah, this child-centred programme has changed the lives of hundreds of children. In Mali, where 2 out of 3 adults cannot read or write, education is a critical means to creating a brighter more prosperous future for communities battling poverty.

Now, Mamadou and his classmates can look forward to the future.

Looking ahead: Safe child-friendly places to play

A new, covered school playground boasts swings, a slide and a merry-go-round. And, of course, lots of whooping and laughing children.

Thanks to your generous support, we were also able to install a school playground, much to the delight of Sayon Konaté and the children:

One of the rights children have is the right to play. They’re eager to come back to school because there is a playground. [Islamic Relief] also planted trees around the school… it will make the school very beautiful.

Mamadou is one of 500 children we’re helping and of course, he’s now looking forward to a brighter future:

Now with the new school, we are so happy. We can stay and study. It makes me happy… When I grow up I would like to be a police officer to catch thieves.

Safe spaces in which to learn and play should be available to every child, everywhere. And this is something that we’re dedicated to providing here at Islamic Relief.

The school is one of three Islamic Relief is building through an extensive project covering six villages. It includes providing communities with child-friendly spaces, access to a dedicated maternity centre, and helping widowed women and vulnerable young people earn a reliable living.

Thank you for helping us to transform the lives of children in Mali like Mamadou. You are life-savers.

Donate now to support our life-changing work in communities like Siramana.

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