8 September 2023 - Mali

Education: How communities are leading the reopening of their schools in Mopti, Mali

Parents in a classroom at the school they advocated for to be reopened

Parents in a classroom at the school they advocated for to be reopened. Photo Credit :Ali Thienou

"It's necessary to engage with communities for more results in the reopening of schools," told me an authority from the Mopti  region during my recent visit.

Mopti, located in central Mali and once a major touristic area, has become one of the country’s most insecured regions since the outbreak of the conflict in 2012. Inter-community conflict and the proliferation of non-state armed groups have led to numerous attacks on the population, hampering their access to basic essential services, including education. To date, one in four schools in the region is closed due to insecurity, affecting access to education for 47,000 children[1]

In addition to jeopardizing the future of children, school closures have a significant impact on their protective environment. This realisation has given rise to a spontaneous movement within the affected rural communities to demand that they be reopened.

"To educate a child is to ensure the success of an entire village"

"They arrived in our village in the middle of the day and took my sleeping children out of my hut  before burning it down in front of me", confided a woman from a village I visited, "Since then, many have fled and the schools are closed".

Since this village[2] was attacked in 2019, its main school had remained closed despite being attended by children from 7 surrounding villages, some of whom would walk up to 7km to attend classes.

An abandoned school classroom in the village attacked.

An abandoned school classroom in the village attacked/Photo Credit: Ali Thienou

In addition to interrupting children's access to education, the communities told me that the closure of the school led to major protection incidents among the children. Many had to start working with their parents in the fields to keep them occupied. Others wandered unsupervised, causing serious accidents. One villager testified that two children had even lost their lives by falling into the river at times when they should normally be in class.

Worried by the recurrence of these incidents and the future of their children, the community decided in 2022 to form a group and meet the director of the Centre d'Animation Pédagogique (CAP)[3] to demand the reopening of the schools.

"We asked him to provide us with qualified teachers so that the schools could reopen" recalls a parent.

The CAP referred the question to Save the Children, which trained and hired two teachers from the community to teach the children.  As part of one of our protection and education programmes in emergency situations, these classes have enabled 35 children, from 08 to 12 years old, to gain back their right to education. For the parents, the resumption of classes has also strengthened the social fabric, with the return of some villagers who fled because of insecurity.

While this village’s example is a success story, it is not an isolated case in the commitment of communities to bring about change themselves. More and more locals are becoming aware of the impact that education can have not only for their children, but also for themselves.

In another rural community in Bandiagara area[4] that I visited, parents of pupils, supported by Save the Children, have formed a local child protection committee. They work on a voluntary basis to raise awareness in the rest of the village of the risks of early marriage, gender-based violence and school drop-out, especially among young girls.

They make sure that all the children studying at the accelerated learning centre set up in the locality by Save the Children attend classes, and even visit their parents when they are absent. A member of the committee told me:

"We are doing all this because we want our children to study unlike us as a child who succeeds is a whole village that succeeds"

Discussions with a local child protection committee (CLPE)

Discussions with a local child protection committee (CLPE)/ Photo Credit: Ali Thienou

Localisation as a vector for change

In addition to direct community engagement, localisation is the approach we promote to drive change. Local civil society and the local partners we support have been at the forefront of initiatives to reopen schools by working closely with communities. For instance, in 2019, the Children and Youth Ambassadors for Peace (EJAP) committee, made up of civil society organisations and set up with the support of Save the Children, succeeded in negotiating with armed actors, the reopening of schools in two localities in the Bandiagara and Bankass areas. The same applies to our local partners, who regularly run awareness-raising campaigns with community leaders.

Despite all the efforts made and the results achieved, there is still a great need for material and financial support to enable local partners and local civil society to carry out their activities. If the future of education lies at local level, support for these initiatives is essential to ensure their sustainability.

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[2] Names are not disclosed for protection reasons

[3] attached to the Ministry of Education, it  ensures that educational activities of social interest are carried out within the school system.

[4] an administrative unit made up of villages

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