When education becomes a lifeline: the case of Mozambique

 HYY’s Development Cooperation Committee supports the education of girls and students with disabilities in the city of Pemba.

Text: Alexandra Biris

Photos: Atija Carimo, Associação PROGRESSO

Maintaining the provision of education is very difficult, yet essential, in times of emergency and conflict. In such violent contexts, as the one currently experienced in Mozambique, teachers are better prepared to offer quality education when they are trained in identifying and addressing the trauma experienced by their students. 

The right to education is a human right affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a landmark document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 [1] as a direct result of the harrowing experiences of the Second World War. Yet, there are still many obstacles preventing students from accessing education, including armed conflicts, displacement, natural disasters, pandemics – just to name a few. In times of emergency, schooling and learning are difficult to support as usual, and additionally, pose special problems that require massive societal efforts to solve. However, it is in these situations when education often becomes a lifeline for children, providing them with protection and sense of normalcy, lifesaving nutrition and water, and sanitation supplies. The importance of continued provision of education has become increasingly clear since the beginning of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe and forced millions of students to adapt to remote learning conditions and caused millions to lose out on their education entirely due to being out of reach of online learning policies [2]

In Mozambique, where HYY and local NGO Associação PROGRESSO have collaborated on a project to promote the schooling of girls and children with disabilities [3], four years of militant and terrorist attacks have left thousands of people dead and forced over 700,000 people to flee their homes [4]. Emergencies such as this violent conflict in Mozambique disproportionately affect children – especially girls – often forcing them to drop out of school. According to reports [5], the children who have been able to attend school have done so irregularly, on empty stomachs, and while experiencing physical and psychological trauma. It is important to understand that these hardships have serious implications not only for students’ immediate well-being, but also directly impact their learning long-term. 

Many children in Mozambique live with trauma caused by experiencing violent attacks in their environment – psychological trauma which can cause changes in their brain structure [6]. This in turn carries significant neurological implications for their development. For example, children who have grown up in high-stress situations face difficulties developing their linguistic skills. Their cognitive skills, such as thinking, reading, remembering, and concentrating, may suffer as well. Additionally, they may struggle with their social- and emotional skills, making it difficult for them to form social relationships and understand, communicate, and manage their own feelings [7]. In combination, these struggles can negatively influence a child’s ability to develop and learn, and even more concerning, potentially hinder their ability to cope in stressful conditions. In other words, trauma can multiply trauma by undermining children’s resilience. 

To break this cycle, interventions are needed to help promote children’s resilience in the face of trauma. Such interventions must also take into account the breadth of struggles and difficulties that these students have encountered due to growing up in an area with violent conflict. Teachers have an especially important role in this difficult endeavour, as they can act as the bridge between students’ trauma (and other psychological challenges) and their learning. However, this requires teachers to be attuned to students’ needs, even when these needs are not explicitly communicated. 

Refugee teachers participating in a seminar about the mental health needs of students in violent emergencies.

Recognizing the crucial role of teachers in promoting students’ well-being and resilience in Mozambique, HYY’s partner Associação PROGRESSO organized a two-day seminar for teachers to gain knowledge and skills needed to support children in emergencies. The seminar, organized in September of 2021, engaged over 80 teachers in discussions about children’s rights, well-being, mental health issues, trauma, social and emotional needs, and the importance of teachers being able to provide support for their students who are experiencing distress. The teachers, who themselves are refugees, shared insights from their own experiences of being displaced and building up resilience, but crucially, recognized that more training is needed for teachers to be able to identify students’ struggles and needs in emergencies. 

Education plays a crucial role in rebuilding communities which have faced conflicts such as the one currently taking place in Mozambique. Safeguarding the learning opportunities of students of all ages and providing them a space for continuing their development is of utmost importance. Equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge needed to support the learning and growth of students in emergency situations has both individual and collective benefits. Individual students can continue with their education, but they can collectively begin to build resilience and social cohesion within the community. Ultimately, access to quality education that takes into consideration the challenges children face in situations of violent conflict is a step toward peace.

HYY has been engaged in development work in the education sector in Mozambique since 2019, when the Development Cooperation Committee began supporting the schooling of girls and disabled children in the city of Pemba. The goal of the project is to prevent the school-drop out rate of some 250 children in the city. Additionally, the project aims to address the stigmatization and other obstacles to education faced by girls and students with special needs and raise awareness of their rights and needs [8].

Sources:

  1. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
  2. //data.unicef.org/resources/remote-learning-reachability-factsheet/
  3. & 8. https://blogs.helsinki.fi/kehy-valiokunta/mosambik-hanke-2019-2022/
  4. https://acleddata.com/2021/08/05/mid-year-update-10-conflicts-to-worry-about-in-2021/#1612195870459-59840c64-a2b4c431-25b1
  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/mozambique/how-school-feeding-keeping-children-classes-disaster-and-conflict-affected-areas
  6. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/viewer.html?pdfurl=https%3A%2F%2Fjournals.sagepub.com%2Fdoi%2Fpdf%2F10.1177%2F0031721718762421
  7. Barr, D. A. (2018). When trauma hinders learning. Phi Delta Kappan99(6), 39-44.

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