(Dollo Ado) January 22, 2013 — When the adult literacy program started here in February 2012, the number of Somali refugees coming to the Jesuit Refugee Service centers in the Melkadida Refugee Camp were overwhelming and beyond the capacity of the classroom tents. Some of the students had to sit down or even stand to attend lessons through the open windows. Observing the situation at the time, I told myself this passion and encouragement by refugees might not last long. The inquiries of some students about materials for attending classes deepened my doubt even further.
Experience has proven that my assumptions were not accurate. The passion and encouragement students of the adult literacy program were showing are not for short sighted gains. They emanate from a quest for education as evidenced by the following testimonies:
"It was only four days after I gave birth to my second child, a baby girl, when I heard about the opening of the JRS adult literacy program from one of my neighbors. Leaving my baby at home while attending classes was a challenge until my baby was strong enough to be carried on my back. Once my baby became strong enough, carrying her in one hand and holding exercise books in the other became the norm. I was determined to face all these challenges because every time I attended the classes, I went back home with new knowledge, inspiration and moreover it helped me to become interactive, feel confident and exchange ideas with friends. To me the JRS adult literacy program is a window to the external world." ~ Nadifa*
I met Abdullahi* outside his classroom waiting for the start of the day’s lesson. I asked him if he is enjoying his schooling. This was how he started to respond, asking me another question.
"Would you imagine where I could be right at this time? Do not worry, I would be either chewing khat or if I couldn’t get the money to buy it, I would be sitting in my house feeling bored, reflecting back on the grief I have gone through when I was in Somalia or even sometimes quarelling with my wife. As you can see me now, I am at school, away from all the troubles. When I return home, I am usually busy doing assignments given to me by my teacher. This is the proudest time in my life. Because of the adult literacy program my life in the camp has totally changed. Now I am a person full of hope, future, free of addiction and above all I am living in peace and love with my family. I cannot tell you how many miles I am closer to my future. I have even started touching my future."
A young woman, Nurto,* explained the source of her courage and passion to attend the adult literacy program and the benefits she derives from the program.
"This is a chance I was not privileged to have even when I was in my home country, Somalia. Attending the JRS adult literacy classes was like starting a new and bright journey of life. The old days of using a stamp pad to append my fingerprints as a signature have long gone away. My fingers have now been given new activities, holding a pen to write letters."
She goes on with her testimony asking me a rhetorical question that seems to be a reply to the question posed at the beginning of our conversation.
"Do you think walking in darkness is better than walking in a plain field full of light?" She replies to her question saying, "For me to come every day to the adult literacy class is equivalent to getting out of darkness every day. How healthy walking people miss such an enlightening chance? This conviction always gives me courage and passion to come to the adult literacy classes."
*Names have been changed to protect identity
By Edris Youna
Dollo Ado Education Coordinator Jesuit Refugee Service Ethiopia
In November 2011, Jesuit Refugee Service started working in Melkadida refugee camp, about 45 miles from Dollo Ado in southeastern Ethiopia, to respond to the severe drought crisis in the Horn of Africa. The crisis forced hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees to flee drought and conflict, and cross the border into Ethiopia, as well as other surrounding countries. JRS is responding to their needs by providing psychosocial counseling and literacy services and by organizing recreational activities.