Country-wide Education Crisis and Conflict Recovery Process

February 4th 2023 [Monthly Update]

The winter cold is reducing but the land remains dry: the annual winter rainy season was no more than a prelude: 2 days in mid-December greening up parts of northwest and central west Afar leaving the highly drought-prone districts on the Eritrean border, east to Djibouti as well as central Afar Region dry, this now telling on the herd as animals are readily falling with diseases. Frequent community calls to the organization requesting a rescue from infectious goat and camel diseases spreading are worrying. Late April should see the onset of the annual short rains (normally March/ April but now recurrently late if the season occurs). There has been a slight ease-off from the exorbitantly high market inflation, the government speaking of a countrywide inflation rate of 33.7% as of late December while in Afar Region, particularly in the remote outreaches, it is around 50 to 60%. To purchase 50 kilograms of wheat flour in central Afar Region, two good quality goats need to be sold while up to 4 are needed in the north. With WFP – distributed food in most of the conflict – affected districts of northern and western Afar, the market is more stable. However, the food distribution as always does not reach the most remote communities who are necessarily the most needy. APDA mobile health teams are in 9 such areas covering over 40,000 children where the overall malnutrition rates for under 5 year olds range from 33% to 45% in early January – this indeed needs full-on effort to reduce including the strategy to reduce household food insecurity as described below.

While northern Afar is at/ in peace, the TPLF forces still hold sway in 3 sub-districts (kebeles) of Magaale: Tonsa, Araadu and Hidda. APDA has in fact vaccinated up to these communities calling children out as far as possible but this continues to prevent people displaced from there returning home. Moreover, the border area of Assa Daa in Barhale is still occupied, the communities from the villages in front of Barhale not returning yet.

Our Grade 12 students mostly failed

Reportedly, 980,000 students sat the deferred grade 12 examinations in October, countrywide. The Ministry of Education recently announced of these, only 28,000 students passed to enter tertiary learning. The shock is far more resounding In Afar Region: 5,280 students sat the exams and only 33 are now able to enter the Region’s Samara University. This then is utterly telling of where we are: without an effective education system, our youth and children deprived of learning. This then glares to underline the reason why APDA expressed education among its three New Year resolutions in the previous update: ‘To bring education to the forefront that the youth and children do have a future’ but in practice, how? Above all, this IS the Region’s emergency: without learning, all that is done to secure a future will be in vain. Yet, of all the support APDA receives, the hardest to harness is education since it is seen as a government task. We argue that Afar is an exception in that rural learning for Afar children having begun as recently as 2005/06 with the event of alternative basic education for children of nomadic herders. Moreover the Afar language was introduced into the written form initially through APDA’s literacy learning in 1996. Indeed, while this is a break-through achievement, the coverage is very limited, APDA still desperately trying to support education where government services do not reach. Today, most Afar children are obliged to begin learning in a language foreign to them and their family, the curriculum largely unrelated to their daily life. It can be expected that as many as 60% of Afar school age rural children are not learning, their parents being almost 75% illiterate.

Aside from not having a curriculum that can capture the Afar child’s brain, probably the greatest deficit in this whole debacle is the utter lack of Afar literature – children’s books and for all ages on all topics is utterly needed. APDA yearns to be able to churn out easy-to-read books/ booklets, sell them affordably in remote communities (along with other essentials like soap) and thereby grasp the mind of the society as to how learning can be part of daily life, education an utter priority. The organization has the writers and the creativity needed. The kick-start is the gap.

Onward in recovery: marketing

As much as the organization has and is working hard to relieve the pain inflicted through conflict providing support to re-construct the Afar house, rehabilitating access to safe water, treating and supporting to prevent disease spread, the organization is deeply involved in recovery: both the local economy/ market and producing food crops now that the historic dependence on all food from outside of the Region is broken. Afar must learn to be merchants, save money and financially plan as well as grow what they need.

To date, APDA is working with

  • 26 community marketing cooperatives selling food to their own communities. Each cooperative has 50 members, 50 to 85% females. They are supported in training, monitoring, government legality and start-up in selling. Most are food cooperatives while there are 3 multipurpose cooperatives and 2 veterinary cooperatives providing a community veterinary service. Where horticultural activities are being conducted, they purchase from the farmers and sell locally.
  • 660 women who had no home support have taken microfinance loans, are working on small businesses and returning the loan to turn over to other poor women. Some of the groups are now working on their 4th generation of loan turn-over.
  • 285 women and 15 men were given start-up to establish marketing in groups of 5 to 10 in war-torn Magaale and Konnaba – there is a plan to extend this
  • 1,387 totally destitute households are now restocked to begin herding again.

While this effort is far from covering the need, it is in a sense self-generative in that the Afar society does make every effort to help each other, rippling on the benefit.  Much more can be done.

Horticulture:

Food crop growing has now taken off in 3 sites in Dallol, 2 in Konnaba, along the Erebti River in Erebti and in flood-devastated Afambo along with 3 sites established in Mille with plans to take it on much further through APDA’s newly – opened horticultural and marketing training center just outside the central town of Logya. Here with currently 10 hectares and irrigation from a borehole, a wide range of vegetables and fruit trees are being grown, aiming to be a practical demonstration to rural training groups passing through the center cyclically. Now the first group of 45 rural women and 15 youth coming from 3 rural sites where water is adequate for horticulture are both theoretically and practically learning, Agriculture and Dry-land Faculty in Samara University along with the Afar Agriculture Research Institute supporting the process. Overall the plan is to enable 24 different rural communities to diversify to food crop growing and marketing in 2 years. APDA has the vision to continue this process on that wherever adequate water exists, Afar will grow food for their children and the local economy.

Last week what was intriguing to watch was a woman called Amina in Alheena, Konnaba. She had returned from displacement in neighboring Dallol by mid-October 2022, a grandmother in her 60’s mastering the art to turn from devastation to something. She said her son and one of her son in laws died in battle defending Konnaba. From her grandchildren, she also lost two toddlers dying of diarrhea and malnutrition where they had gone into displacement in Dubte. There they drank dirty water, so she says and there was no food for the children. She sees herself as the remaining family head and, being that the water point at Alheena was rehabilitated 6 weeks ago, she has set up her own garden. The water scheme has a run-off when a trough is filled for people to scoop the water. With this, she has grown a very small watermelon, a few tomato plants and a handful of pepper plants. Her pride and joy is her beehive. Her grandfather taught the family how to manage bees but the family hives were all burnt by the invading TPLF. Now she has a small log she pocked holes into, has gone to the hills and found herself a queen bee and says this is the beginning of her return to productivity!!!

Amina, her beehive and the beginnings of her vegetable garden in the background
Vegetable growing on the riverside in Leele Gaddi, Konnaba, the district market is supplied from local production rather than coming in from Tigray
Lining up to collect water at the newly rehabilitated borehole in Alheena – TPLF destroyed the generator and cut the distribution lines. Waiting can take 3 hours at the site and the furthest they come from to collect water is 4 hours walk

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