Hararghe – For Ethiopians like Ahmed, an eighth-grader at Bilisuma Primary School, pursuing education in East Hararghe has been agonizing. An outbreak of violent conflict in 2016 led to the disruption of education and schools were damaged.
Ahmed, one of the students whose education was put to a halt due to conflict said “I have a very keen interest in finishing my studies. However, I was forced to stop for some time because of a conflict in my town. This created a gap in my academics. It was very frustrating,” Ahmed explained. “Every time it is deemed safe to return to school, I've already forgotten what I have learned before classes were interrupted.”
East Hararghe Zone borders the Somali and Oromia regions of Ethiopia. A 25-kilometer drive off the main road here takes one to the even more remote district of Gursum, where there is little access to basic facilities. The community in this district witnessed intercommoned conflicts between 2016 to 2018, which destroyed what minimal facilities there were.
Thousands of people were displaced as a result of the conflict while vital facilities such as schools and health posts were damaged. Ahmed is among the hundreds of students in Gursum District whose studies have been affected by these conflicts, one of many whose memories of the conflict still haunt.
“The conflict broke out while class was ongoing. We had to flee! We moved to the mountains carrying what we could,” the young student recalled. “When we returned, we were shocked to find that our school was destroyed beyond recognition and learning materials were all looted. Our houses were destroyed as well.”
Rehabilitation and Handover of Bilisuma Primary School, Remotely located at the Gursum District in the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia, the Bilisuma Primary School is the only primary school in the area. The next learning facility is located more than 30 kilometers away. With no desks and educational materials, students were learning in an un-conducive environment—squatting on stones instead of desks and chairs.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) works on promoting social cohesion and supporting communities that have been affected by man-made and natural disasters. In times of conflict, IOM supports communities to rebuild what they have lost and overcome challenges.
Through the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund-supported Program “Inclusive Governance and Conflict Management Support to Ethiopia,” IOM has organized community dialogues, cultural and sports events, and capacity-building training on Conflict Early Warning and Response (CEWAR), among other durable solutions for security and administrative experts. Various peacebuilding and conflict management workshops the organization conducted were the preliminary steps to establish inter-and intra-district task forces for conflict management and peacebuilding in Ethiopia's Oromia and Somali regional states.
As part of the program, IOM rehabilitated schools and social facilities damaged and affected by intercommunal conflicts to provide the much-needed service for the community. "With the community dialogues between the internally displaced, returnees, and host communities, and in consultation with the government, IOM prioritized the areas that would minimize the tension. The communities feared that the basic resources like health posts and schools would be stretched. Hence, IOM intervened to support the infrastructures as a peace dividend,” said Swikriti Bashyal, IOM Ethiopia's Emergency, and Peacebuilding Officer. Bashyal added: “The Somali, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples'(SNNP) Regions were heavily affected by conflict with thousands of people being displaced, and social facilities and livelihoods destroyed, which was extremely saddening.”
Altogether, IOM has rehabilitated 70 schools and two health posts in the regions as a conflict prevention mechanism. In Bilisuma, three blocks were built by IOM while the Oromia and Somali communities came together in solidarity and built the fourth block.
Among other facilities in the region, IOM has reconstructed the Bilisuma Primary School in Gursum District, which was completely damaged by the conflict. The school, which caters to the Oromo and Somali communities in the district, was handed over to the government and the community along with learning materials such as student desks, blackboards, and office furniture.
Bahir Ahmed Nure has been the Director of Bilisuma Primary School for the past two years. He explained that the rehabilitation of the school to its current condition has enabled the students to continue with their education. “The school was not how it looks right now. We have been determined to reconstruct it using mud and straw after we returned. However, it kept cracking and falling apart every month. Students were forced to sit on stones since we have neither chairs nor desks,” he added, reflecting on the community's desperate attempt to keep the school open. “We didn't have enough educational materials. Even the basic textbooks were not available, as parents have lost most of their belongings and couldn't afford to buy new ones for their children.”
Bilisuma Primary School is now back in operation. With additional classrooms and the old ones reconstructed, the school can provide service in a much-enhanced capacity. “Before the reconstruction, children were not eager to show up in school. Now, after IOM's support, we have to do double shifts due to the number of students who are attending classes in the morning and afternoon,” the director concluded. “After IOM helped us to reconstruct the school and provided learning materials, students are now eager to return and continue their education.”
Photo: IOM Ethiopia
The newly constructed Bilisuma Primary School is currently providing education to more than 500 pupils.
This block under construction is part of an initiative by the community. The school will be shared by the two ethnic groups previously at odds with each other. The construction of this school is significant as it shows the outcome of the peace-building initiative: to promote social cohesion and solidarity. During the handover ceremony, community members from both ethnic groups came together for a celebration filled with dances and cultural foods. It was also attended by the Gursum District officials. Community members brought their cultural foods during the rehabilitated Bilisuma Primary School handover ceremony and chanted with joy.