Alice Umutoni was 19 years old when violence spiked in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was home with her family when the neighbors began to scream. Within minutes, they heard more gunshots than they could count. Scared, they started to run in different directions. There was no time to pack and rescue belongings. One of the neighbors had to carry Alice to safety after finding her unconscious. Her family was nowhere to be found. Away from her loved one for the first time, she was surrounded by strangers who had already chosen their next destination: Kenya.
Alice’s favorite time of the day is sunset. She and her husband wait for their six children to come back from school. They sit together around a cup of tea and talk about their day. But Alice’s routine was not always so pleasant. Before joining AVSI’s Better Outcomes project, returning home at sunset was a nightmare. Everything she earned would be spent on alcohol by Robinson, her husband, leaving nothing to buy food for their children. When she tried to talk with Robinson, he would inevitably raise his hand at her.
“It was draining,” remembers Alice. “I couldn’t bear seeing my children starving.”
The school year started in Ivory Coast on September 14, with children timidly returning back to their classrooms. Precautions such as wearing a mask, frequent handwashing and social distancing are taken seriously and enforced. Teachers are beginning the year with ‘catch-up’ classes to address the interruption which started back in March. AVSI is working alongside teachers, parents and students to ensure a smooth and safe transition back to school and ensuring that education continues. The activity is part of the USDA-funded project, “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program.”
Studies show that school closure during COVID-19 has adverse effects on children and adolescents. Young people are anxious and worried that they will never go back to school. Bernadetta Anieno, 18 years old, is no exception.
“They kept postponing the reopening, and I was losing hope,” remembers Bernadetta, who has been studying at AVSI long-term partner Luigi Giussani High School in Kampala, Uganda, since 2019. “I was just home doing nothing, not even reading. One day, I asked myself what I would become if I kept being home just watching TV?”
There is a panoply of benefits that stem from adequate and accessible green infrastructure. It is undeniable that they are essential for the urban climate and biodiversity. They can also act as a catalyst for human wellbeing by contributing to develop income enhancement strategies and social cohesion.
On May 25, in Ivory Coast, thousands of children, including the beneficiaries of AVSI’s “Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program,” head back to class after weeks of school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The West African country that has already reported 2,300 positive cases of coronavirus and 30 deaths became one of the first in the continent to re-open schools. Confident that learning can continue following health and safety guidelines, the Ministry of Education put in place a rotating system with upper classes (3rd, 4th, and 5th grades) going to school on certain days and the lower levels (1st and 2nd grades) on others. Children have to wash their hands before entering their school, wear masks at all times, sit six feet apart, and have bottles of hand sanitizer within reach.
Since March 23, when the Government in Mozambique closed all schools to avoid the spread of COVID-19, 22-year-old Misnia Zefanias Vilaculos has been struggling with a major challenge:
“The most difficult part of this epidemic is not being able to be with my students, children are a source of happiness and creativity, I miss them so much,” says Misnia.
For the last year and a half, Misnia had been going every day to the Xtinza Cultural Center and to the ten elementary schools in the Nhamankulo slum, one of the poorest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Maputo, to read and interact with children. With a strong passion for literature, Misnia not only shares the importance of reading but also helps students understand the messages contained in each story and imagine a better world. Not willing to interrupt this incredible encounter, AVSI moved Misnia’s reading session to a virtual platform. Now, instead of visiting the cultural center and schools, she goes to the local radio station where she reads a fairytale and leaves a message or simple greeting.
Physical distance cannot prevent learning. As schools have closed all around the world due to the COVID-19 epidemic, it is essential that children can still learn, no matter where they are or how. In Ivory Coast, AVSI, with the DPCE (Directorate of Pedagogy and Continuing Education), is working with the Ministry of Education to continue providing access to primary education for all children through radio. The initiative My Class at Home” includes a radio show called “Little Stories of Uncle Marco,” in which students, teachers, and hosts read Ivorians short stories and tales.
As a result of the long-lasting crisis, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children have missed out on vital moments of their education. In Eastern Ghouta, we work with OCHA, SARC and the Ministry of Education to offer safe spaces for children to learn and play.
Thanks to the Imarisha Jamil Project, AVSI Kenya has been helping refugees like Uwimpuhwe Marie Josee and Uwena Devota to enhance their social and economic resilience.