A festive atmosphere filled the air in the village of Nagounkaha in the district of Karakoro, 5 miles from the town of Korhogo. The Ambassador of the United States of America to Ivory Coast, Her Excellency Jessica Davis Ba, accompanied by a delegation, visited the village’s public elementary school on May 23, 2023. She went to see and learn about the McGovern-Dole program on school canteen operations and reading instruction.
UN data reveals that more than 393 million children have failed to gain the basic literacy skills at age 10; and in the case of Ivory Coast, the reading rates have always been low, with the reality that one third of children who start in 1st grade will drop out before finishing primary school. In response, AVSI has been working to improve literacy rates in 613 schools of Ivory Coast through the USDA/McGovern-Dole Program. Led by the World Food Program from 2016 to 2021, 150,000 students were able to receive quality school meals. Amid the crisis, AVSI has stepped up its work with refugees and migrants in the region, leveraging the little money available to create pathways for long-term integration and development for Venezuelans in host countries. Through the project Integrados, funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, AVSI provides legal protection, housing, and livelihoods assistance for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in three regions of Ecuador: Pichincha, Manabi, and El Oro.
The auditorium was filled with excitement. AVSI staff and partners from the World Food Program (WFP), National Canteen Department (DCS), and the Ministry of Education (MENA) gathered to celebrate the ending of a successful 5-year project. Between 2016 and 2021, the Integrated Feeding and Literacy Program gave 125,000 children access to healthy food and distributed reading materials and books to schools in Ivory Coast.
Children in Ivory Coast engage in the worse forms of child labor, including harvesting cocoa and coffee. Although school is mandatory for children ages 6 to 16, approximately 23% of primary school-aged children and 41% of secondary-school-aged children are not enrolled in school, with the highest rates in the country’s North, Northwest, and West regions.
“Today, we must force children to go to school. Sometimes, we even must get them in the field. Once, I had to ask one of my inspections and a teacher to come with me to the field. As a result, we found 15 children working and brought them back to school,” explains Sylvain Douhouretagoh, Inspector of Primary Education in Korhogo.
Thanks to AVSI’s Integrated School Feeding and Literacy Program, Ama discovers a passion for reading and shares it with friends in Ivory Coast.
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.”
AVSI is monitoring the continued development of the coronavirus pandemic in countries where we operate. We are aware of risks that local populations will face, especially having limited access to precarious health systems and already struggling with poverty, hunger, and conflict. AVSI staff continues to accompany our beneficiaries, following safety regulations implemented in each country. We are doing everything we can to ensure minimal interruption of our initiatives, which many people need even more right now. Below are some testimonials we have received from colleagues, who like all of us, have to adapt, be creative, and remain hopeful during these difficult times.
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.
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.
On December 5, 2019, His Excellency the US Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Richard K. Bell, made a visit to Loyerkaha Elementary School located in the Poro Region, Northern Ivory Coast.