Class is in Session

Sudan, December 2, 2005

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    Twelve-year-old Nasir is one of 9,000 displaced Sudanese children attending classes in Darfur's displacement camps. Photo: Jeremy Barnicle/Mercy Corps Photo:

El Shebab Camp, Darfur, Sudan — Nasir Adam Yago likes studying English almost as much as he likes playing soccer - and he's had a chance to do much more of both since Mercy Corps established a school here in August.

"Before the school opened, we spent more time with our families," says 12-year-old Nasir. "But we were bored. We wanted to learn. We wanted to play with more kids."

Mercy Corps is targeting 14,000 school-aged kids living in displacement camps around the West Darfur towns of Mukjar and Zelingei, where the agency works, as the host communities can't come close to accommodating them in the existing school system.

In order to meet that need, Mercy Corps is working with the leaders of displaced communities and with the Sudanese Ministry of Education to get more kids back into the classroom. So far, Mercy Corps is supporting the education of about 9,000 displaced children in Darfur, with immediate plans to serve thousands more.

"In terms of psychosocial development, going back to school helps displaced kids feel more like regular kids, not to feel so different," says Jalal al-Din Attigani, Mercy Corps' project manager for education in Darfur. "Besides the subjects they're studying, this experience is helpful because it prepares kids to participate in their communities, to feel like they belong to something even though they are a long way from home."

Mercy Corps and the Ministry of Education identify teachers - some displaced themselves and some from the host communities - consult camp leaders to develop school sites, and facilitate instruction of Sudan's national curriculum to children aged 7-16.

Nasir and several of his classmates had to flee when their village, Giri, was attacked by a militia group about two years ago. They walked a full day to get to this camp and have been here ever since.

While soccer and English classes are nice, Nasir really just wants to go home.

"When I get older, I want to be a teacher back in Giri," he says. "It would be great to help kids learn what they need to know."