(Wajir, Kenya) Children in Primary school line up to receive food from a school feeding program.
Photo courtesy World Vision Canada
While Canadian children spent the weekend getting ready to go back to school, their counterparts in the Horn of Africa were not as lucky.
Drought, famine and regional violence have kept many children away from school. Others have been driven from their homes to refugee camps in order to stay alive.
"Children who were living in stable communities in Somali are now being forced to flee their homes," said Mindy Mizell, communications manager, World Vision, in a telephone interview from Kenya.
"So education is being put on the back-burner for many of these families and children, specifically those who are fleeing to refugee camps."
Ms. Mizell visited Dadaab, Kenya, home to the world's largest refugee camp, where 440,000 people are seeking food, shelter and medical care. While there, she spoke to a 13-year-old Somali boy who told her his main concern was that he would be deprived of furthering his education.
"Education is not a priority right now," said Ms. Mizell. "Many aid agencies are focusing on food and medical supplies, but education is something that children are concerned about and desperately want, but it is not always made available," she said.
"We see some makeshift schools in refugee camps, but they have very limited resources, for example, school supplies are not accessible and many of these make shift schools are overcrowded."
World Vision is currently setting up what are called child friendly spaces (CFS). These spaces provide a safe zone for children who face a variety of problems such as loss of one or both parents, abuse, or sexual assault. These children are encouraged to continue their education at the CFS.
However, it is not just refugees who are suffering. Many families still living in drought-affected communities are strapped for cash and have few resources. Many have had their livestock stolen – which is not only a loss of income – but also a loss of a valuable food supply. This results in having to make difficult decisions and more often than not, a child's education is the first to go.
In addition, school supplies, tuition and uniforms are expensive and if the parents cannot afford them, children are expected to stay at home. This is particularly troublesome because often the meal a child receives at school is the most nutritious meal they will receive all day.
Want to help out in the Horn of Africa? The Canadian government announced it would match individual donations dollar-for-dollar, if you donate by Sept. 16.