In Chad, Jesuit Refugee Service teachers aim to keep school going amid pandemic lockdown

Chad teachers JRS JRS teachers in Chad with some of the posters and information materials they are using to create awareness about COVID-19 among the refugee communities. | Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)

As schools in Chad remain closed due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, teachers from the Jesuit Refugee Service are conveying safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus in local communities.

¨We came together to raise awareness among the community. Our students are part of it, so it is important for us to spread the message,¨ Ibrahim Isaakh, a science teacher in Djabal, southeastern Chad told JRS May 11.

For her part, Fatimé Ali Rifa, a teacher in the Touloum refugee camp, Iriba, located in the east of the country, has been recommending frequent handwashing and avoidance of crowds as precautionary measures to the prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 450,000 refugees live in Chad, who have fled from conflicts in Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria, among other countries. Refugees live in camps afflicted by the same poverty and food insecurity faced by most residents of Chad. In addition to refugees, there are more than 150,000 internally displaced people in Chad.

Eighty percent of people in Chad live below the poverty line, and most experience chronic food insecurity.

Schools in the landlocked country, Africa's fifth largest nation, have been closed since March 19, a move that has brought new challenges to the more than 102,000 refugee students across the country.

"Their academic engagement is at risk of great delay as many refugees lack a TV or radio to be able to follow the telematic classes offered by the government," the JRS explained in a May 11 release.

For Abdelhamid Ibrahim Radjab, a teacher at Amnabak refugee camp in Iriba, every time he meets the parent of a child in his school area, he reminds them to ask their child to "review the materials they have already learnt at school in order to be ready for their [upcoming] exam."

As schools in Chad's refugee camps often serve as points of safety, reconciliation, and community awareness, their closure means that "children are more vulnerable to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, as well as exploitation," according to the JRS.

"For the students, the closure of the schools affects their schedules, as they won't be able to finish the programme," Abdallah Ahmat, a math teacher at Djabal refugee camp said.

"The community is worried; it is not sure what will happen with the future of our children. The question is when is this all going to finish?"

As the Jesuit agency monitors the situation in the semi-desert country, leaders are developing strategies to continue the school calendar.

As a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the disease among students, leaders are considering arranging for each class to include no more than 10 students.

Students may also study from home in groups of three or four;  teachers go from home to home to check what the students are doing and offering them guidance on the curriculum.

The leadership of JRS has expressed confidence in the teachers in its school programs noting, "Throughout all the uncertainties, one thing is clear: the commitment of our teachers has never wavered."

"We hope that the situation gets better soon to allow the teachers and students to walk back to school. For the moment, and until the end of the pandemic, we will continue supporting our students with home-based learning," Makka Abdallah Dehie, a primary teacher at Mile refugee camp, Guereda, told JRS.

With programs across 56 countries across the world, JRS runs seven refugee camps in Chad.

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Founded in 1980, the mission of JRS is "to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future."

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

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