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Education in an Emergency

Today was our first day in Bangui in the Central African Republic, and much of the day consisted of learning more about the context of the country, specifically the neighborhood in which we’ll be working. We spent the day with our partner, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), and met with parents and community members of Boeing—a neighborhood created for people who have been internally displaced by ongoing conflict and cycles of violence in this country. Some of the “internally displaced” are families who fled Bangui during the coup in 2012 and later returned, and others are families who only recently fled their villages to seek safety in the capital. The neighborhood is located near the airport where many sought refuge. Boeing became the longterm solution for those people.

Meeting with JRS staff, Fr. Joseph Samedi, and Pope Francis Preschool Parent-Student Association leadership

The population of Boeing is 3,500. Of this population, 240 are children under the age of five. In 2014, the Jesuit Church identified a huge gap in education in this neighborhood. In fact, there were no schools in the area and children were forced to walk at least four to six kilometers to reach any school. As a result, most children did not attend school. Instead children stayed home or worked with their parents in the “garden” or “field.” Recognizing that there was no way young children under five could walk four kilometers to school, the Jesuits, in partnership with JRS, focused first on addressing the need for preschool in this community. In 2016, a preschool was built and opened called Pope Francois Preschool (the Pope Francis actually visited and blessed the school in November 2016). The school has three classrooms and three teachers, and is currently reaching 118 of the 240 children (about 50%). JRS does not yet have the capacity to build more classrooms or employ more teachers, and so they cannot reach every child. The preschool teachers have only received one very basic training.

That’s where we come in. iACT is here in Bangui to conduct Little Ripples teacher training with the employed preschool teachers of Pope Francis, as well as others. JRS also supports a preschool for handicapped children in Bangui and an additional five preschools in rural villages about 150 kilometers outside of Bangui, employing a total of 12 teachers—all of whom will be attending our Little Ripples teacher training.

(from left to right) Roger, Augustine, and Paterne—leaders of the Parent-Student Association of Pope Francis Preschool

We learned today that outside of Bangui, the capital, the country is lawless. More than 60% of the county is controlled by more than a dozen rebel groups. There is weekly news of violence, destruction, and looting. So, why focus on preschool education in this context? Fr. Joseph Samedi, a Jesuit priest from the Central African Republic, addressed this question during out meeting today: “We cannot sit by and do nothing even while there is conflict. We must do what we can, even if little by little, focusing on education, to give hope to our community and to be prepared for when there is no longer conflict.”

All our conversations today—with JRS, with parents, with community leaders—focused on the importance of investing in education in order to positively and peacefully change the context of this country in years to come. I kept thinking to myself throughout the day how each conversation was such a welcome contrast of peace, education and hope to the devastating reports of violence and conflict I read during our travel here.

Pope Francis Preschool


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