For the lost children of Cabo Delgado, going back to school is a fading dream

For the lost children of Cabo Delgado, going back to school is a fading dream

  In Mozambique’s conflict-riven province of Cabo Delgado, children and young people are being deprived of education by the fundamentalist

 

In Mozambique’s conflict-riven province of Cabo Delgado, children and young people are being deprived of education by the fundamentalist insurgency that began in October 2017

Luis Nhachote in Cabo Delgado

Twelve-year-old Abdul* was studying in the fifth grade at the primary school in the village of
Nova Zambezia in Macomia when the sound of gunfire erupted from the football
pitch.Amid the panic that ensued, he found his family already on the run, joining
the rush to escape without slowing down. Scooping him up, they left for safer
ground: the bush. They are now staying in the village of Muaje in Ancuabe, a district
100km south of their home but still within Cabo Delgado.This region has not itself been
touched by conflict, but it is serving as a refuge for a great many of those who, like
Abdul and his family, have been displaced by the violence.Abdul is safe, for now,
but he wishes he could go back to school.Across Cabo Delgado, about 300 schools
have been partially or completely destroyed and 98,000 students have been left
without any prospect of continuing their education any time soon. Some 1,736
teachers have been displaced by the conflict, according to official figures.It’s no
surprise that the insurgency has targeted schools – in the relatively neglected Cabo
Delgado, schools were one of the few significant examples of state infrastructure.
Moreover, one of the few demands the insurgency has ever articulated is that people
in Cabo Delgado should stop sending children to school. In Palma – the district
home to the multibillion-dollar gas project that insurgents overran last March,
triggering foreign intervention – 7,500 pupils and 1,700 teachers fled. Just 113 of
those teachers have since returned, despite the presence of Rwandan troops, who
ejected the occupying insurgents and restored peace and government control to the
district. Only 12 of the district’s 43 schools have reopened.
In Abdul’s home district of Macomia,meanwhile, 13 out of 54 schools have
reopened, but he and many others are not ready or even able to return.Three years
ago, nine-year-old Heba also fled Macomia. She now lives in a centre for
internally displaced persons in Montepuez, more than 200km south of the village
her family once called home.Heba was in the fifth grade when she had to
interrupt classes. Her dream is to be a doctor ‘to help heal people’,
but it is on hold because, according to her, ‘Al Shabab destroyed
everything’.She too was in the fifth grade when the insurgency turned her world
upside down. Her dream is to be a doctor “to help heal people” – but in Cabo Delgado
such dreams are on hold, at best. “Al Shabab destroyed everything,” she says.Also

in Montepuez is 14-year-old Karima, from the village of Chinde near Awasse, a
village that sits on a keycrossroads that has been fiercely contested by insurgents and
government forces. One day, Karima and her family heard gunfire and fled into the
bush, where they hid for two months. “I didn’t take anything with me,” she says.
“No clothes, no books.”Her family eventually made it to Montepuez. But she
longs to return to school, she says. “To be somebody.”Learning in the open
airFor those children in Cabo Delgado who can go to school, many are finding
their classes are taking place in the open air. The number of lessons being held
outdoors grew 15% in 2021, from 777 in 2020 to 893 last year, provincial director of
education Ivaldo Quincardete told The Continent, in an interview in Pemba.When
Quincardete heard The Continent was also going to visit baby Awa, who was born
on a boat bringing her mother to relative safety in Pemba, he said his unit wanted
to offer her a scholarship. The Continent first reported her story two years ago.
They now live in the Paquitiquete neighbourhood, where displaced people have been
given lodging.For Awa, at least, some kind of education is on the cards – but
authorities still have much to do in rebuilding Cabo Delgado’s education
infrastructure.And returning to their home village of Pangane, which they left in
October 2020, is still a distant dream. 

*All the names of the children interviewed for this
story have been changed. Their real names are known to The Continent.

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