Community Collaboration Keeps Children Learning in School

June 8, 2009


A hotbed of conflict during more than two decades of war, the Kurmuk community in Blue Nile State has placed its hopes for prolonged peace on educating its children.  So, when the bamboo fence around Kurmuk Model School was destroyed not once, but twice, the community rallied to rebuild it.

With help from the PTA, community members saw first-hand how collaborative efforts can help keep their dreams alive for their children’s continued education. And with a small grant from the Health, Education and Reconciliation (HEAR) Sudan project, the community built the school’s fence. Implemented by Creative Associates International, HEAR Sudan is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Without a fence the school compound – situated in the heart of Kurmuk’s busy marketplace – was left exposed to vandalism, misuse of its property and stray animals coming in to graze. The situation threatened to disrupt the learning process for the school’s 600 pupils and 14 teachers.

Shortly after the fence was first built, the gate and parts of the fence were destroyed by some military forces which used the school to hold an event. “It takes minutes or seconds to destroy, but the rebuilding is a big problem,” said Hellen Samia Rajad, the Deputy Headmistress of Kurmuk Model School.  “As a mother, it pains me to see the property for our children being destroyed.”

A hardy and resilient group, the PTA, which recently received training in civic action by the HEAR Sudan project, organized a meeting with community members to seek a solution. In its quest, the PTA appealed to the police and ultimately to the governor’s office. The PTA requested compensation for the destroyed fence and its reconstruction.

“We have fought for 31 years, why do we have to fight now?” said Rajad, referring to the military troops accused of having damaged the school’s property. “Even if we don’t have the power to fight them, we will make them sit down and listen to us. We have to be one, so we can achieve our goal. We have to continue working very closely with each other, for the sake of the future of our children.”

The PTA and community members  successfully negotiated with the responsible parties to acknowledge their fault and agree to repair the damaged fence and gate.  But only a few months later, a fire broke out at a kiosk selling fuel near the school. Within minutes, the blaze engulfed the Kurmuk Model School’s new fence, leaving it in a pile of ashes.

Discouraged but undefeated, the school’s head teacher and PTA sprang into action, again. They mobilized the community to bring materials and contribute their labor, and a new fence was put in place within just two days, without outside assistance, a testament to the community’s organizational skills acquired through HEAR Sudan training.

One of HEAR Sudan’s main components is to strengthen community support for school governance and outreach through conflict avoidance and resolution strategies. An element of this includes the role of groups such as PTAs in their collaborations with local communities, often serving in the role of a community arbiter. The PTA’s and community’s vigorous but non-violent responses to these incidents are strong indications that the project is achieving its desired goals, said Creative’s Sandhya Badrinath, who served as HEAR Sudan Interim Chief of Party earlier this year.

The community is now building latrines for the school, also an indication of a shift in the attitude toward increased community engagement in social services that will likely foster an enhanced sense of mutual ownership and responsibility.

“HEAR has really done a lot for us,” Rajad said. “They built a gate and fence for our school, trained teachers, and provided health education, which is really important to us. We really appreciate what HEAR is doing.”

—Japheth Mugumo with Sandhya Badrinath, Sabina Henneberg and Alexandra Pratt.

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