In Darfur, School Is a Respite

Caritas Tells of Attempts at Normality in Troubled Sudan

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ROME, DEC. 14, 2004 ( Tensions are high in Zalingei, Garsila and other cities in the Darfur region of Sudan that serve as temporary locales for thousands of refugees, says Caritas Internationalis.

But the Vatican-headquartered confederation of Catholic charities sees at least one positive sign among the displaced: a love for education.

Despite, or because of, the ravages of militia-instigated violence, young Sudanese refugees seem committed to education.

Even children whose villages were attacked in outbreaks of violence in the last year carried their books and school bags as families fled to nearby towns and displacement camps, Caritas reported.

At the Hassa Hissa Camp on the edge of the city of Zalingei, a tough, blighted place, it is possible to see a group of enthusiastic students learning English at a school run by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), a partner of Action by Churches Together (ACT)/Caritas.

“The children are very interested in going to school, and they are much, much happier now,” said Mohammed Ahmed Hajam, the headmaster of the school for 1,600 students, ages 13-16.

The SCC’s commitment to education amid the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is no accident, said Joseph Akwoc, an SCC program manager.

At the very least, students attending classes are out of harm’s way and can rebuild a small semblance of normality. Many have lost family members and friends in the last year of violence.

A day at school can be a small balm, both for a traumatized child and a traumatized society. “Our presence,” said Akwoc, “must have an impact.”

ACT is a global alliance of churches and denominations and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of Catholic relief, development and social service organizations present worldwide.

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