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HORN OF AFRICA/ 5. Maria (AVSI): Hope is not just for fools

Maria Li Gobbi describes her experience building schools in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, which are overflowing with children in need of a safe place to stay and grow up in.

(photo ANSA) (photo ANSA)

People continue to arrive in the refugee camp of Dadaab. The rate has slowed to about a thousand people a day. The new arrivals are relocated to the new Kambi Oos camp, which is about 7 km from the closest inhabited area, the Hagadera camp. These are the people who live in the worst conditions.

There is a sense of precariousness not only in the tents used as houses, but in the lack of space, services, security… The families arriving now in Kambi Oos send their children to school in the Hagadera camp because education is more or less guaranteed there. We are working toward this, on the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ Italian Cooperation for Development, in collaboration with the Mount Kenya University, UNICEF and PCE, the Permanent Center for Education in Uganda, a partner of AVSI for training in Africa.

Yesterday, I showed our work to the representatives of the Italian Cooperation, who are very present here on the ground, to let them see how we work and how the money of our fellow countrymen is spent. We drove the usual 17 km that separate the camp from the citizens of Dadaab in a car. Dust, sand, wind and, this time, a huge camel crossed the street, causing us to slow down. We arrived in the least safe camp among the three that existed before the emergency: Dagahaley. Here we are building a two story school, the largest.

I have never built a school. I worked in the education sector in many different countries, but I have never built a school. Seeing what we are creating, step by step, is very moving. I realized that those holes in the ground, the pits and the excavations, the piles of earth that are beginning to take form, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

It will be a two-floor school with 24 classrooms, offices for the teachers and the principal, bathrooms for the students and the personnel, water, and a library. Thinking about how, thanks to our work and the contributions of far-away people, we have the possibility to build, is something that makes one happy. Because having a place that is not only safe and useful, but is also beautiful, educates the children. They will be able to feel not only normal, but special.