Empty desks as CAR schools reopen

Despite ceasefire, most classrooms remain empty with students too afraid to return.

by

    When I arrived in Bangui, on July 22, I did not see many children in the streets. There were mostly African Union, European Union, French and local security forces visible in the capital of the Central African Republic. 

    Ordinary people used to mainly be around the market areas, or in their neighbourhoods. But still, I don't remember seeing many children around.

    After a ceasefire between armed Muslim and Christian groups was agreed just over a week ago, this changed. As if they just appeared from nowhere in what seems like huge numbers, they are almost everywhere. Many come up to me begging for money or food.

    Now that Bangui seems relatively calm some schools ‎have opened. I visit one just on the outskirts of town.

    The teachers say a lot of children haven't returned. 

    Are they dead? No one can say for sure.

    Teachers hope their missing pupils are still in camps for displaced people or have left the country with their parents.

    It's a strange feeling asking a 15-year-old if he knows where his friends are. A boy answers, "my mother told me it is better to forget about them because they might be dead. Why have hope they are alive? It means you can't move on with your life."

    The scary thing is that this boy telling me this bizarre statement is so young and he has no expression on his face.

    He is from a Christian family, wearing a silver cross‎ around his neck.

    He was told by his parents Muslims killed his sister during an attack in the neighbourhood. The family spent two months sleeping in the cathedral, too terrified to leave in case they too would be killed.

    I change the subject and we talk about school. He has recently come back to class. Like many others across the country, he has missed so much. Catching up is possible but it will be hard.

    Little girls play hop scotch next to me during break time. Things seem normal, as if nothing bad ever happened in the Central African Republic.

    The school principal heads out into the bush. I ask her where she is going.

    "Some parents think it's not safe to send their children back to school," she tells me, "There is a man not far from here working in his garden. I am hoping to change his mind."

    She smiles and disappears into the thick bush.


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