Rebuilding Classrooms after Conflict
Chenna Primary School in Debark was occupied by rebel forces during the conflict in northern Ethiopia in 2021. When they withdrew, five classrooms had been destroyed and the furniture burnt. Our construction project aimed to rebuild the classrooms and restore the facilities, so that children could go back to school and begin to recover from the trauma of occupation.
Chenna School used to serve 725 pupils from grades 1 to 8, it had 11 classrooms, a staff room and a director’s office. After the five classrooms were destroyed there wasn’t enough space to teach all the pupils. Higher grade students studied under trees and whatever furniture still remained was shared between classrooms, so no classroom has enough. Many pupils were so traumatised and demotivated that 270 of them hadn’t returned to school when education resumed. Students reported feeling angry, worried about the situation, and extremely helpless.
The director of the school was highly motivated to get things back to normal for the students so Together We Learn worked with the school to support reconstruction and refurbishment of the classrooms. As well as restoring the capacity of the school, we wanted to support the students to be able to start to recover, rebuild and focus again on their futures.
In December 2022, we ran a Big Give Christmas fundraising campaign that raised over £14,000 for the project. The local community had already contributed to begin reconstruction so foundations had been built for the classrooms. With our funds they were able to complete the structure and repair the roofs for two classrooms. We completed construction on a further three classrooms, plastering the walls, laying concrete floors, painting and installing windows and doors. We also funded furniture and teaching aids to restore all the classrooms to full use.
The classrooms each provide learning spaces for an average of 100 pupils, taught in morning or afternoon sessions. So the project has benefitted at least 500 pupils and their teachers. Teachers reported that by repairing damage such as cracks in walls, and adding colour paint, the environment feels safe and ‘comforting’ for children again.
Four teachers using the classrooms and the school director were interviewed, and all reported feeling sad and confused when the classrooms were damaged. Following reconstruction all teachers felt excited and proud to return.
A sample of students using the classrooms were asked about their feelings before and after construction. When they were unable to attend school, and when seeing the damage, 100% of children felt worried, confused sad or angry. Following the repairs and reconstruction, and upon return to school, children reported feeling excited, calm and safe in their environment. Seven out of eight children felt positive towards the future, whilst one remained worried.
275 pupils previously enrolled at the school had not returned since the conflict. By the end of reconstruction, only 93 had yet to return – a reduction in drop outs by 66%. We hope this figure may further reduce when the classrooms come into full use at the start of next academic year.
This project has been an excellent insight into what can be achieved when a motivated community, school team, and small NGO such as ourselves are prepared to work together in harmony. The local education office was also supportive throughout, hence empowering all stakeholders to feel a sense of ownership and pride in the building. We will aim to continue this collaborative work in all construction projects.
“You came while we were at risk. We were disapointed not only in our learning but just to live. Now, we are happy, as our children’s minds have changed from dispointment to ambitions to learn for their future.”
Parent and member of the Parent Teacher Association at Chenna School
“Together We Learn didn’t only work on classroom refurbishment, but on making children safe, since they were exposed to the sun when learning outside; on helping students who had dropped out to access education; on quality of education; and your project even created work opportunities for the community during construction.”
Deputy Head of the local Education Office
We have learned that at times of crisis, a community can be motivated to achieve change and input all that they have, but still lack reliable NGO support of other organisations to come forward quickly and efficiently with the resource to help them achieve this. Trust has been built, and we aim to maintain and grow these bonds within the regions where we work.
Our thanks go to all the individual donors and pledgers who donated to the campaign, to Ethiopiaid UK for their charity champion grant and to the staff and local education office at Chenna School for their collaboration on our shared vision for the pupils.