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Right to Education in Central African Republic

Marieke Hopman

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3 augustus 2017

CAR report: the solution (for now)

3 augustus 2017 | By | No Comments

Dear all,

After my last blog 2 days ago about my dilemma surrounding the publication of my research report on the right to education in the CAR, I got so many replies!! Thank you all so much for all your emails and suggestions. Once again it can be so great to find that there are people who do care, and that I am not at all alone in my mission to help these kids. So thank you.

Today I had a really good meeting with the media&communication experts of Maastricht University. They advised me – and I would never have thought of this myself – to first go back to the CAR and take a small first step with implementing the research results, which is to start up a dialogue on education based on my research findings. Then after I can come back and (hopefully) share a story of “change is possible, and this is the first step, based on this research report” with the media, instead of a cliche story of “look at these poor children in Africa”.

So, I contacted both the CAR minister of education and his adviser to see if they are still interested in cooperation, and if indeed they can provide me with a visa and a place to stay. They said yes, and so I booked my ticket: flying out 4th of November. This time I will stay in Bangui only, and only for a short time – but it will be a first step, and after I think it will be up to other people to carry on with the project, using the research data and working for a longer period in CAR to continue this change. As should be the role of the researcher (or, in the words of my wise and caring father, in reply to my blog: “I think you overstretch your responsibility here … you are not GOD himself”).

On the practical side, this means that I still have to find funding for translation, travelling back and, if possible, graphic design of the report. To find this funding I received some good ideas from some of you, which I will pursue over the coming period. And I’ll definitely do what I can to win the university’s competition…3000 euros, fingers crossed!! I will also need to bring printed copies to CAR, but I guess I will simply use the university printers, put the report in cheap folders and fill up my suitcase with these home printed copies.

Thanks again for all your input and advises, I will definitely keep you up to date!!

Marieke Hopman

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1 augustus 2017

CAR report: a dilemma

1 augustus 2017 | By | 2 Comments

Dear all,

I am coming to the end of my case study on the child’s right to education in the Central African Republic, and slowly starting on the last case study in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Of course part of my efforts are directed to trying to make as much of a difference for CAR children as possible based on my research results.

To this purpose, I have written a research report on the case study which includes advise for different actors involved such as NGOs, politicians but also teachers. Together with the CAR minister of education I wrote a plan on how we could use the research data to really make a change in the CAR – a plan that involved organizing a national dialogue on the national radio and in different villages, translating the research report into Sango and printing and distributing the report. However, by now I have approached quite a few different actors (NGOs, political actors) with this plan and so far it seems that no one is willing to finance and/or execute it.children following class outside

Today I got a phone call from a journalist – I have been getting quite a few of those; the media seems to be very interested in the report. I have been holding them back, telling them to wait for the publication of the report. However, today this journalist told me that if I don’t publish soon, the media will have no more interest because it will have been too long since I was in the CAR.

So here’s the dilemma: currently I do not have the money to
– pay for the graphic design of the book (which I think is crucial for anyone to read the report) (costs about € 3.500)
– pay for the printing of the report (costs at least € 5.000 – 7.000)
– pay for being able to go back to the CAR and present the research results so that it can actually have an impact in the country (costs at least € 2.000)
– pay for the translation of the report from English to French (costs € 600)

I signed up for a call for action research of Maastricht University, to win € 3000 to be able to help the children in the CAR, but I will only hear at the end of August whether I have even been selected to compete for the prize in September. Another crowdfunding is not feasible at this point either, since my students are already preparing a crowdfunding for the Cyprus case which also still needs funding.

So what to do??

  1. Wait until I find a sponsor for this part of the project and give up on (at least part of) media attention for the research
  2. Publish the report online early September, and reach out to media, with or without graphic design, or even print it – I could cover these costs from my research budget at the Maastricht University Children’s Rights Research Fund, and hope for the best in trying to get to the end of the PhD without serious financial shortage
  3. Do I go back to CAR to share the research results or not?? I feel that if I don’t, in a way, it feels like it has all been for nothing. I do not think that international attention for the case will really change anything for CAR children.

So if anyone has a great idea about what to do, or a very rich uncle who is looking for a great purpose for about € 10.000 –  €15.000 (all reported on and controlled by the independent Maastricht University Children’s Rights Research Fund), please share!!!

Marieke Hopman

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29 januari 2017

Recht op onderwijs en de autoriteit van een CAR dorpshoofd

29 januari 2017 | By | One Comment

Transcribing interviews today, and came across this conversation where I was discussing authority and the possibility to create a school in the village with a village chief. The question: can he tell the literate parents of the village to all teach a few hours a week, so that the children will have education?
 
Resp:       They cannot accept to teach if we don’t pay them.
MH:          But what if they would just teach half a day a month?
Resp:       That would be good, but it is not possible. They have to go fishing. If they don’t go, how                      will they feed their children?
MH:          I have trouble believing that teaching for only 4 hours a week will make the difference                          between eating and not eating.
Resp:       I cannot command them. If they don’t want to, can you force them?
MH:         You are the chief, do you not have that power?
Resp:       I have power, but I cannot force people.
MH:         So what kind of power do you have in relation to education?
Resp:       If I command someone, who wants to go fishing, to teach and to force them to teach?
MH:          I am just curious to see how it works in the village, the relation of power, authority and                         autonomy…
Resp:      Before, the young people were receiving the village chief. Nowadays, after the arrival of                       human rights [a relatively new concept in the village, apparently], if you ask them to do                      something, they don’t accept it. When they don’t accept it, you have no right to take it by                    force.
Marieke Hopman

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6 oktober 2016

Presentatie eerste resultaten CAR

6 oktober 2016 | By | 5 Comments

Gisteren heb ik voor het eerst in het openbaar gesproken over de eerste resultaten van het veldonderzoek in de CAR. Het was spannend om te doen, en nog extra spannend omdat het deel uitmaakte van een “science slam” van het festival Night University van Tilburg University. Dit is een wedstrijd waarbij verschillende wetenschappers hun onderzoek op een alternatieve wijze proberen te presenteren, met als doel om het publiek zoveel mogelijk te raken en te betrekken. En dat allemaal in 10minuten…

Mijn presentatie was een licht theatrale vorm, waarbij ik stukjes voorlas die ik had geschreven in mijn veldonderzoek notebook, waardoor ik mensen meenam op deze reis. Het publiek moest na afloop stemmen en…ik heb gewonnen!!! :D

De komende periode zal ik meer gaan experimenteren met alternatieve vormen van het presenteren van onderzoeksersultaten, manieren die een breder publiek aanspreken maar (hopelijk) ook voldoende niveau van diepgang hebben.

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Marieke Hopman

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12 september 2016

Terug uit de CAR, proberen te begrijpen

12 september 2016 | By | 2 Comments

Beste allen,

Sinds een paar dagen ben ik terug in Europa, na 6 weken veldonderzoek in de Centraal Afrikaanse Republiek. Wanneer ik probeer te begrijpen wat ik heb gezien, de verhalen die ik heb gehoord, in een poging om alles in te passen in een academisch theoretisch geheel, vind ik in mijn hoofd vooral de kinderen die ik heb ontmoet en de hopeloze situatie waarin zij zich vaak bevinden. Ik wil iets slims en academisch schrijven maar merk dat ik ook veel op een meer sensitief niveau reflecteer, met name wanneer ik peins over het gebrek aan liefde in het leven van deze kinderen. Hoe kan een land ooit vooruit gaan, wanneer de kinderendagelijks fysiek en psychologisch worden misbruikt, wanneer volwassenen de kinderen behandelen alsof ze niets meer zijn dan objecten, of slaven?

De casus heeft de belofte van een zeer interessante academische analyse waarvan ik denk, of hoop, dat het een verschil kan maken in de dagelijkse realiteit van deze kinderen, hopelijk door de regering en de aanpak van NGOs te beïnvloeden. Voor nu houden twee gedachten mijn aandacht vast: ten eerste het idee dat ik terug moet, om meer data te verzamelen en de puzzelstukjes te vinden die nog ontbreken. Daarom zal een deel van mijn tijd de komende twee maanden besteed worden aan het zoeken van de financiële middelen om terug te kunnen gaan. Ten tweede, aan de meer sensitieve kant van het kunnen begrijpen, denk ik dat Benjamin’s Clementine’s aangepaste uitvoering van Jimmy Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child” de situatie van kinderen in de CAR beter uitdrukt dan ik ooit zou kunnen; de chaos, angst, onzekerheid, eenzaamheid…

Don’t wanna think about two times ten plus seven
Oh, this is getting too damn scary
Lord, hope I’m not a voodoo child […]

Standing by in the middle of the road
watching passers by as we go by
and still I’m on front, no I’m on front
as the cops, they come by
So I’m a voodoo child, I’m a voodoo child
Lord knows I’m a voodoo child […]

I’m sorry for taking your sweet time 
I’ll give it back to you one of these days
if you don’t meet me now, meet me 
when I say goodbye to you
don’t meet me the next world war
I hope you meet me the next one after that
You know, I’m a voodoo chid, I’m a voodoo child 
And lord knows I’m a voodoo child

Marieke Hopman

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23 augustus 2016

Update #4, 15-19 August: Bambari

23 augustus 2016 | By | No Comments

On tuesday 15th August we were supposed to leave for Bambari at 16.00. Unfortunately there were some problems at the bank (they had no cash), and it got later and later … In the end we left after 18.00 and had to drive to Sibut in the dark, which felt a bit unsafe. Driving in the dark, knowing there might be armed groups around ready to attack and loot the car, you start looking at the road differently. You find yourself watching the hands of people on the side of the road; are they carrying guns? Do they wear amulets (which they believe protects them from bullets)? Fortunately, other than that we killed a pig that was crossing the road, nothing happened.

The next day departure for Bambari at 5.30. The road was again very beautiful, and very bumpy. We stopped along the way so that I could do some interviews. One village chief explained to me that the children in his village could not go to school, because the school was in the neighboring village and the chiefs don’t get along. So the children are not allowed access.

We arrived in Bambari in the late afternoon. Bambari is the second most important city in the country, especially because of its diamond mines. The city is currently divided into two halves, one anti-balaka and one UPC (ex-Seleka) side. MINUSCA, the UN troops, guard the bridge in between. This is why we went for drinks in the bar next to the bridge, even if the music was too loud to be able to talk :-).

Wednesday morning I started by going to the IDP (“Internally Displaced Persons”, meaning people who fled their homes yet stayed in the country) site. There are several IDP sites in and around Bambari, however most of them do not have any schools, and children have not had education for years. I chose to visit a site where they do have an operational school. In addition to interviews, I got to follow a class (see video below). Strikingly, although this education is completely free and even school supplies are paid for by NGOs, in this class almost 20% of the students was absent.

In the afternoon, I did an interview with the Imam of the central Mosque, on the Muslim/UPC side of the city. He explained that at first, due to the fighting it was too unsafe for children to walk to the public school on the other side of the city. Therefore the armed group UPC decided to build its own school. These days, allegedly, they manage a public school, open to both Christian and Muslim children, paid for by the General Ali Darass.

What’s more, we walked over to the school and now that it’s the holidays, they are using the school for adult education. In a country with an extremely high percentage of illiteracy, stumbling across this adult education felt almost like a miracle. The Imam himself told us that he had never been to school and was now taking his first lessons (in yet another location than the one we saw). Word has it that even the General himself is taking lessons, learning how to read and write!

And this coming from an armed group that is normally know for committing human rights violations…Seeing the adults studying, and learning about their investment of money in quality, public education – something the CAR government (at least, the previous governments) does not always seem ready to do – totally blew my mind and especially confused my ideas about right and wrong. DSCN0681

Marieke Hopman

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20 augustus 2016

“Ik weet niet eens hoe ik mijn naam moet schrijven”

20 augustus 2016 | By | No Comments

In a CAR village I spoke to Kafe (12). Kafe has attended a few years of education but then had to stop, both because of insecurity issues – the walk to school is about 2km, and when armed forces are running around this is particularly unsafe – and because his mother wanted him to work in the field with her. He explained that he wanted to go back to school, because “I don’t even know how to write my own name, I only know the first two letters”. Together we figured out the other letters and this resulted in him writing his name! (We also wrote his last name, but I left it out for anonymity reasons).  The story is not exceptional and shows the difficulty of children’s rights to education in the CAR; there is a big problem of access, and even if you do get to a school, the quality of education is often very poor. Kafe himself is going back to school next week, after his aunt offered to pay his school fees (about $4.5).

Marieke Hopman

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12 augustus 2016

Marieke Hopman

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7 augustus 2016

Marieke Hopman

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2 augustus 2016

Aangekomen in de Centraal Afrikaanse Republiek

2 augustus 2016 | By | 2 Comments

Dear all, This is just a quick message to tell you all that I have arrived safely in the Central African Republic last Wednesday and I am busy setting up the research. So far I have done 3 official interviews, and many unofficial conversations on children’s rights to education in the CAR. It promises to be an interesting research, among other things because a qualitative research on the right to education has not yet been done yet in the country – at least as far as the people who I have been working with know (or from what I’ve been able to find).

Me and my colleague Bonheur and some of his cousins

I am so lucky to be working here with CARITAS (NGO), who have been incredibly supportive of the research and are providing me with all kinds of logistic and practical help (also with security issues as this conflict affected area is far from safe) as well as the chance to exchange thoughts and experiences. They really work closely with the locals – in fact, there is only one European employee I have met so far – which is just perfect for my research purposes. Hopefully this will enable me to really get to understand the child’s right to education from the inside out, even though I never feel more white and different than in Africa. I am hoping to be able to share some more about the research soon, in between organizing research interviews, visiting places, waiting waiting waiting (it is Africa after all), seeing if the internet is working … So far the plan for next week is: to visit M’Poko refugee camp, the Bangui pediatric hospital, the ministry of education, Kaga Bandoro and the orphanage in Bangui. Which is probably slightly unrealistically ambitious, especially at local (sometimes very frustrating) pace… On the bright side: connecting to children so far has been very powerful and provided me with a lot of inside information. Some of which makes it hard to sleep at night.