Article originally published in French by the Paul Gérin-Lajoie Foundation
The Girls’ Education Project for a Better Future in the African Great Lakes region (EDUFAM), implemented in a consortium by the Foundation and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) and funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC), has concluded its first year of implementation on March 31. Spanning over four years, the project’s ultimate objective is to use education to contribute to the empowerment of girls, teenage girls and women, including those who are refugees, displaced, returned and living with disabilities in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The first year of the project was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The populations targeted by the project, already particularly marginalized, found themselves in a situation of even greater vulnerability due to the threat of the virus, but most of all to the impact of the sanitary measures implemented. The economic situation of families has been greatly affected by the measures of social isolation, the closure of businesses and borders and the travel restrictions. The closure of schools in the DRC and Rwanda has had a devastating impact, with interruptions and delays in learning accounting for more school dropouts, and even for an increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), leading to early or unwanted pregnancies. For example, in the Mahama camp in Rwanda, more than 60,000 Burundian refugees found themselves in lockdown during the pandemic, while for many the only opportunities to earn an income were found outside the camp, in the host community. The lockdown orders at Mahama camp were indeed very strict in order to avoid a catastrophic spread of the virus; the schools welcoming the refugees had to close their doors, while access to distance learning initiatives through television or radio was particularly difficult for these populations. As families find themselves without any income and children without the shelter that school can represent, several girls will not be returning to school, even as they reopen, called as they are to support their families. Teenage pregnancies grew exponentially in Mahama during lockdown, which represented another obstacle to the education of refugee girls.
Together with the local implementation partners of the project, the Foundation and CECI have deployed short and medium-term response plans in order to ensure learning is not interrupted when schools are closed; to see it that schools can be safely reopened; and above all to ensure an effective return to class for girls and teenagers. Teams in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC worked to communicate official information on COVID-19 to the target communities, including prevention/protection measures. They also spread information on the importance of girls and teenage girls returning and staying in school, especially targeting the most vulnerable households and those most at risk of keeping their daughters at home to support the family. Families have also been sensitized to the issue of sexual and gender-based violences. The project also supported distance learning initiatives, providing families in need with solar-powered radios so that girls may pursue their education by accessing courses and educational activities offered by the governments via radio, as well as with school materials such as exercise books allowing them to continue learning at home. In addition, the project worked closely with volunteer teachers to ensure students, especially girls and teenage girls, are accompanied through distance learning groups, telephone follow-ups, and family visits.
The implementation of these mechanisms for distance learning continuity also helps school systems become more resilient and better prepared for further possible school closures. In addition, the project supported the implementation of COVID-19 protection/prevention measures in the 24 beneficiary schools of the EDUFAM project in order to ensure a safe return to class, mainly by providing schools with the necessary materials and equipment for the correct application of these measures (hand washing kits, room disinfection kits, masks, etc.). Furthermore, women’s groups were supported in their income-generating activities to ensure the local production of masks and sustainable feminine hygiene products for the targeted schools.
Over the Last Few Weeks…
The situation related to the pandemic stabilized, and we were able to resume our activities somewhat normally in the three countries of intervention. Although the situation remains fragile, the teams on the ground can now come out of the phase of urgent response to the COVID-19 crisis and focus more on the implementation of the core activities of the EDUFAM project, such as the implementation of an innovative system of monitoring and individualized support for vulnerable girls and teenage girls in order to adequately meet their needs and face the specific obstacles on their educational path, all with a long-term vision. With the end of the project’s first year, we were also able to start the process of developing “social contracts”, through which all the key stakeholders of the targeted communities make a commitment for the education of girls, especially by working to reduce the socio-cultural obstacles to girls’ access and retention in school.
The project’s second year will therefore be crucial for the implementation of these activities, particularly in the targeted schools which will be rehabilitated and equipped, and where the staff will be trained to ensure they offer quality, inclusive and gender-sensitive education.
To learn more about the EDUFAM project, click here.
The Educating Girls for a Better Future in the African Great Lakes Region Project (ÉDUFAM) receives support from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.
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