Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergencies’ Programme Manager reports live from Central African Republic (CAR).
People ask me if it is dangerous in the places that I travel to for work. The answer sometimes is yes, but we take certain security measures to alleviate this.
However, in the week before I travelled to Central African Republic (CAR,) I went past two areas, once on foot and once on my bike, in Dublin, where within an hour or two people were shot. This is a really unnerving reality as gun violence in Dublin is taking its toll. Imagine living in CAR where gunshots and violence have been a regular part of life for the past number of years. As a result of the conflict in CAR, there are still an estimated 545,000 people who fled to neighbouring countries. 20% of schools in the country are closed, and more than 70,000 children are deprived of education in areas where displaced people are staying.
I recently attended a training which looked at the impact of trauma on children and how it can affect children from a very early age, impacting their general wellbeing and intellectual development. There are, however, a lot of things that can help. Going to school, and playing in safe areas are so important when it comes to children being children and laying the foundations for healthy, functioning adults. In many emergencies, these type of activities are often overlooked as they are not considered to be life-saving, but in Plan International, we feel very strongly that they must be considered as part of a suite of responses, which also includes shelter, food and nutrition.
Here in CAR, we are working with thousands of children to ensure that they get an education and that they can play. During the conflict in CAR, many children were taken forcibly to work with armed groups. Plan International also works with many of these children in the demobilisation process, to provide psycho-social support, to provide them with vocational skills and in many cases, find families to care for them.
This is Jean (not his real name). He has just turned 18. He was involved with an armed group for several years, until he came to the attention of Plan CAR, who enrolled him in a programme aimed at demobilising children caught up in the conflict. He received psychosocial support from Plan International, training as a tailor and he has been undergoing an apprenticeship for the last 12 months. He has 3 months to go in his apprenticeship and on completion, he will receive his own sewing machine and follow-up on a regular basis.
In the school I visited today, where these new classrooms are being built, the average number of kids in a class is 150. The needs are huge; there aren’t enough classrooms, teaching materials, books or adequately trained teachers, but Plan International is making a difference to the lives of so many children. We have trained teachers, provided school kits, rehabilitated and built classrooms, build latrines, and trained some parents to be teaching assistants so that they can help in the classes, and improve education levels.
When I return to Dublin in a few days, I will do so, safe in the knowledge, that some things are universal – parents’ desire to educate their children and keep them safe, and maths tables…