Today is World Refugee Day and I have never really recognized this day before.
Yes, perhaps I would have retweeted a Tweet about the day, or even posted a story about it to my Facebook wall, but it would not have resonated like it does now.
In my time in Ghana, I have visited the Ampain Refugee camp twice and met with refugees about their experiences with the ongoing political and ethnic struggle going on in the Ivory Coast. I have mainly been interested in what the education is like in the refugee camps.
Ampain houses over 5000 Ivorian who fled the political unrest and now ethnic persecution in their home country. The UNICEF supported primary school educates about 800 students in temporary wooden structures with tarp roof and walls. Last Thursday, the camp got a donation of desks and white boards from the Christian Conservatory of Ghana so the children no longer have to sit on plastic mats on the ground or learn from tarp walls made into makeshift blackboards.
The volunteer teachers still only have limited books and school supplies to try to educate the school, which is seen as a safe haven for the children. Most of the children have been directly impacted by the trauma of the unrest and move to the refugee camp.
When I visited the camp briefly last week, we heard there had been an incident earlier that day. I learned later that it involved a dispute at the charcoal distribution and the police were called in to interfere. To try to regain power, they shot their guns in the air, which caused more havoc, especially for the school.
The children were taken aback by the sounds of the gunfire and ran into the bush for cover. Many children refused to come out of hiding prompting a ‘Missing Children’s List’ to be drafted and a search team organized. All ten ‘missing children’, some as young as four, were eventually talked out of hiding. The next day, many of the students did not attend classes.
“[The children] went to the bush to hide when there was gun shooting because when [they] were in Ivory Coast, during the war, they would have heard all the gunfire and learned to hide themselves,” explained Jacob Ahoua, who is coordinator of the refugees for the camp and established the school as an assistant of community service.
“Most of the children of the camp are traumatized because they heard of the noises of war. Some have seen their father or mother killed. So this event was a bad experience for the children.”
After hearing this story, visiting the primary school and meeting the people of the refugee camp, I definitely view World Refugee Day in a new light.
For a first hand account from the people at Ampain listen to Raquel Fletcher’s, Ivorians Seek Refugee Status in Ghana.