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Right to Education in Central African Republic

Marieke Hopman


20 november 2017

CAR: heeft het verschil gemaakt?

20 november 2017 | By | 2 Comments

After coming home from what has most likely been my last visit to the Central African Republic, at least for now, I find myself confronted with the million dollar question: three months of field research, months of desk research and writing, financial investments, personal investments (including sickness and danger) and travelling back to share the results…Has it made a difference?

On the airplane, I made a list:

 Yes, some people felt heard – at least the ones I interviewed.
– Yes, many CAR people told me, quite surprised, how good the research report was, and especially how it told the truth about education in CAR.
– Yes, the report was very popular, many wanted to have and read it (it was even easily sold). Will it make people think? Maybe? Also the radio discussions, discussions with teachers, education teachers I held…they seemed a success.
– No, I had discussions with NGO people, but did not seem able to make an impression. Only spoke to one person of the government (the minister of education turned out to be in Paris, most members of the ministry of education were on a mission somewhere). They might read the report though. But it seems in this case that the research will only make a difference bottom-up.
– Yes, there is now information available on the subject (child’s right to education in CAR) where there was none, or hardly any, before.
– No, I don’t think it will influence decision making on higher power level (NGO/government) much. Their minds are already made up, they didn’t seem to listen – as they don’t listen to the people in general. Maybe in the long term? Maybe if they can get money for a program for peace & education?
– No, tried to share these ideas of peace & education with international donors. Couldn’t even get any funding for this very small and cheap project.
– No, I don’t think people make the connection between peace and education actively. Although I tried spreading that message, if grenades are exploding, people are scared, shots are fired…the daily survival trumps long term consideration. It’s up to the wealthier, governing actors (NGOs, government, donors) to have an overview and work towards long term. However, they mostly don’t care, don’t listen, are too occupied with their selfish interests (meeting targets, self-enrichment, etc.) Plus too cynical and without hope or believe for the CAR.
– Yes, with this story and experience, I can now start addressing the international community. Make a fuss about what’s going on in CAR in international media, in Geneva and Brussels, as much as I can.
– No, I did not nearly have enough reports. Spreading more reports would help a great deal to get the dialogue going. People are so eager for information! Couldn’t/Can’t find the financial means to print more. Online publication is clearly not accessible for 99,9% of the CAR population.
– Yes, finally, someone started a public debate about corruption in schools. I’ve seen people take up the discussion among themselves, in relation to their institutions and establishments.
– No, if people want to take action based on the report, there are no means available, there is no follow-up (but perhaps this is not my responsibility as a researcher?).

The first night back in my own bed in the Netherlands, I had a nightmare. I dreamed that a large group of people, thousands and thousands of them or even more, was being attacked and eaten alive by huge animals. They were all running around, screaming and dying. I was there, and I seemed to be the only one knowing something about how to stop these animals from eating you. I tried to tell other people, to inform them what they could do. But it was impossible. First of all because they were all running around being scared, and secondly because I couldn’t figure out how to reach them all, as there were so many. The only thing I could do, it seemed, was to grab one and hold this person tight.

On bad days, I feel like what I did will get lost in the sea of well intended, but useless, efforts. At the end of the day, it is not going to make a difference. Sometimes I think: at least I tried, and that is always better than not trying at all. On good days, this is my answer:

– Yes, I have shared information and possible solutions. With the clear “assignment”: this is my contribution, my gift to you. Now it’s up to you, Centrafricains, to take up this responsibility, for your own children, for your country, for your future. I hope you will use what I have given you.


Marieke Hopman


16 november 2017

CAR: sharing the research results #4

16 november 2017 | By | 2 Comments

Monday 13 November
Started the day going to Grand Café. Wanted to try get in touch with the written press. At Grand Café, thIMG_0660ey sell CAR newspapers. Bought a few and called the numbers of journalist. The first one I spoke to about the research immediately was very enthusiastic and wanted to come see me right away. Great! However, when he arrived, I quickly understood that, in order for anything about my research to get published, I would have to pay. And so I learned that free press does not exist in CAR – in fact, all articles in all the newspapers are bought. And they cost about 70.000 CFA (€ 120) for two pages, which is an enormous amount of money, especially in CAR. And mind you, newspapers are not handed out for free either! Was very tempted for a moment, to pay anyway because I think sharing the results is so important.. but decided against it.

IMG_0652I also went to see the guy who sells books next to Grand Cafe. Had given him a report 2 days before, to see if he could sell it (to “test” the interest in the issue and the report of locals) – and he had! Sold it for 2000 CFA (about € 3. In comparison: a bread costs 100 CFA. So seems like it does have indeed value to local people!).

Then, my last time teaching future teachers at the university. Again great discussions, my only sorrow being not nearly having enough reports to hand out – which has been an issue all throughout this visit..!! IMG_0686

In the afternoon I went with my research assistant into her neighborhood to collect data, images, testimonies and chicottes for the theater play on CAR (which, by the way, will be tried out on 24-26 November in Rotterdam. You are all invited, tickets are free, but places are limited. Please email me if you’d like to come (!).

LOVED spending some time in the neighborhood, playing around with some of the kids!IMG_0685IMG_0701








Tuesday 14 November
During the night I got pretty sick. So far, every visit to CAR I have been sick, which is not surprising due to the very poor hygienic circumstances compared to back home. I was very cautious this time because no time for sickness…however, it caught up with me. I was going to soldier through, because it was my last day and there was way too much left to do. Started the day going to CARITAS office but while there, could hardly sit up and also really had to be near a toilet .. so decided to go back and lie down. Postponed my meeting with an employee of the ministry of education so as to hopefully regain a little strength. At the mean time, however, someone in the PK5 neighborhood had thrown a grenade into a school which allegedly killed 3 children. This shook up the community pretty badly, which meant that a) I couldn’t get organized with the radio station Ndeke Luka to organize the radio debate about education in CAR that I wanted to organize with the cardinal, imam and former minister of education, and b) I think this engaged the employee I wanted to speak too because I could not get in touch anymore.

So I basically spent my last day lying in bed, feeling awful and frustrated and depressed and contemplating about the use of it all and whether this whole research project had made any sense at all (more about that in my next post).IMG_0722

Luckily, in the evening my dear friends/colleagues from CARITAS came to pick me up and take me out, even if I didn’t eat much, at least to say goodbye. I was very grateful. Also I could arrange with them to bring the last reports I’d saved, to the ministry of education, and to give the report on a USB to the conseiller technique, who will put it into a digital system he’s setting up which will most likely mean that 1-2 years from now, through the distribution of e-readers to all CAR teachers (this is his amazing project!!), ALL teachers in CAR will be able to read my report.

Wednesday 15 November
My friends from CARITAS brought me to the airport and stayed a long time to wave at me all through the check-in process. So grateful for all their help, support and love!! When I landed in Casablanca (where i had to spend the night), had several phone calls with a journalist from the radio station, to organize the debate. He also called me at 5.58AM this (thursday) morning again to discuss it. So I still have some hope that this will happen even when I’m not there. Which would be even better – because, now I’m gone and it’s up to the people of CAR themselves to take up the research, its results and solutions, and start working on improving education in their country….

Marieke Hopman


13 november 2017

CAR: Sharing the research results #3

13 november 2017 | By | One Comment

Friday 10 November
Started my day again with teaching/discussing the research with a group of teachers and administrators. I wasn’t quite sure whether to do so many sessions with high school teachers, who are in university, as this is clearly a more privileged group compared to the rest of the country. Also most children in this country will never ever attend high school so was this really the group to spend time and energy on? However, when talking to them it turned out to actually be quite useful. It has been about 10 IMG_0620years (they say) during which students are educated to become teachers (even if very little), but after their studies there are no jobs for them in the public sector. Although there obviously is a great shortage of qualified teachers, the problem is that the state does not want them on a payroll. Therefore after their studies, they disappear either to teach in private education or to do other jobs. So who am I talking to? Where do they come from, and what will they do next? It’s hard to tell. They are at least people who are interested in education, and people who are relatively high educated. They might be future educators, future politicians, future activists. Seeing how lively our discussions were, I do think, and hope, that there is a use for discussing these subjects with them.
A great discussion we had was about corruption in schools. A brave student stood up and said that even in their university there is a lot of corruption. What can we do about it? It will never stop if we keep teaching corruption to children, by forcing them to pay for their marks, either with money or by sexual activities.

Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 November
On Saturday I was invited by the former minister of education, Gisèle Bedan, for lunch. What an IMG_0632amazing woman! So passionate, energetic, courageous.. We had a great discussion about education in CAR, which lasted (without noticing) for hours. She told me about how she fought corruption especially on the level of high school exams, and how in the end she had to resign because of numerous death threats.

My plan for the afternoon was to visit my research assistant Petrouchka and to collect information and artifacts for the theater piece we are preparing in Maastricht, about education in CAR. However, my phone had stopped working. It turned out I needed to show my identification at the Telecell shop, which wasn’t open in the weekend. Bought a new sim card, which then turned out not to fit into the Iphone. Tried to use my old Nokia, but at that moment there was no electricity in the room where I was staying so I couldn’t charge it. It became dark (around 18h) and it started to rain, thunder and lightening. So as I couldn’t contact anyone, I found myself locked in in my room, with no light. Decided to go to bed early and try again the next day.

Sunday morning, Nokia did not work, tried calling people with my Dutch number. Did not work, probably because people do not have enough phone credit to pick up, as it costs them money too. Finally managed to contact a friend who proposed to pick me up so that at least I could get out of the room. I was hoping to get in touch with my assistant later and get to work. Unfortunately I only heard from her in the late afternoon. It turned out that the evening before, a grenade had exploded in the neighborhood next to her house, with two killed and several wounded. It was a sign for people to start fighting, and she said that in her neighborhood shots were fired around every 5-10 minutes. So we could not go there to do our work, also it was already getting dark.

This is also to show that a large part of my work here consists not in sharing research results but in 1) arranging practical difficulties (inc finding electricity, internet, etc) and 2) making sure not to get robbed, raped or killed. Even though I pay a lot of attention and try to be as safe as possible, over the last 1,5 week I have been attacked twice and my money got stolen out of my hotel room. Once people on the market got into the car I was in with a friend, once a guy tried to pull my backpack while I was on a motor. It seems that the atmosphere in Bangui is grim, people do not like white people at all. Dealing with this takes a lot of time and energy, which I wish I could spend on discussing the child’s right to education….!

Marieke Hopman


10 november 2017

CAR: sharing the research results #2

10 november 2017 | By | No Comments

Tuesday 7 November
When I arrived in the Ledger (fancy) hotel in the morning to use the internet, I had to walk around the red carpet that was laid out because, apparently, the president was there with about every minister, ambassador, consultant and other authority that matters even a little bit. They were gathered for a conferencIMG_0555e organized by the United States, something on how they battled corruption in Seattle and how this could be used as a model for CAR (which seems doubtful to me seeing the extremely different contexts,and then think about the fact that for this conference the complete governance of the country was stopped for 2 days as everyone of any position was at the event…). Anyway, what a chance! Went there to talk to people and met all kinds of high placed officials who were all very interested in my research. And I mean VERY interested. I did not have enough copies  of the research report but people sat down just to read it on the spot, and actually started truly reading it rather than scanning. Tried getting in touch with the president to discuss the subject or at least give him a copy. Many people were mobilized to help me do so and we got to the chief of staff, but at the end of the day it seemed to come down to the fact that he wasn’t interested. IIMG_0557n the afternoon I visited the national radio Ndeke Luka for the second time, as I was invited by a journalist. When I came in I found out that apparently we were recording an interview right away. i tried to quickly take some notes and prepare a story (if you have 15mins to talk to the CAR people about this subject, what do you say?? – Yes you can imagine I was pretty tense about it). Then wheIMG_0565n we had our headphones on, technician in place etc, first thing the guy asks me is whether I have a boyfriend and if I’d be willing to marry him. Thank god that after that uncomfortable interval we had a normal, quite good interview (I think). It was my first time in French so that scared me a little – what if I don’t understand the question the journalist asks? – but it was fine. I spoke mostly about how we should change the education system to be more peaceful and to raise children in a spirit of peace rather than corruption and violence. In the evening I met with an employee of an i nternational NGO, who works on education in CAR on a high level. I was really eager to talk to him and share the research results, but at the end of the day it seemed like there was not much I could share with him because he felt too restrained by the system of his organization to actually change anything. Most things that are going wrong when it comes to international intervention on education in CAR, seems to be the result of a failing (international) humanitarian aid structure –  at least, according to this person.

Wednesday 8 November
Started my day meeting with a group of education inspectors at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENSIMG_0585 (1)). I was again quite nervous because it was my first time “teaching” and discussing with local people in such a setting. These are people who work in education all through the country, their job is mostly to write reports about the state of education for government. This gathering was GREAT. I spoke about the importance of their work, the importance of sharing true information in their reports, of whom to share this information with, and of how to help the teachers and children in the schools they visit. I recommended talking to children to get true information and spoke about the importance of ethics and anonymity. Afterwards duriIMG_0584ng the discussion so many people contributed, sharing thoughts and issues and frustrations. It was clear (what a relief) that my research was of great use to them, especially the discussion we were having. One thing that really struck me was, when I spoke about adapting the education system to CAR reality/context to make it more relevant (including teaching in Sango) a guy stood up and more or less shouted into the room “She is right! Look at us! We are not proud of our country! Imagine, we need a WHITE GIRL to ask us why we are not teaching our children in our own language?!”

Thursday 9 November
Started my day teaching and discussing education in CAR with primary school teachers, and their teacIMG_0604hers, at the Centre Pedagogique (CPR). Again a very different target group, as they are the people actually standing in the classroom. And again it was GREAT. We had some really good and open discussions about the use of violence in the classroom, and discussed possible alternatives to keep order (such as alternative punishments and positive enforcement). The teachers were very attentive, writing down all practical things we discussed and asking many questions. AnotheIMG_0599r thing we discussed was practical things they could do to make their math a nd language lessons more interesting and relevant. For example instead of “50-25″ why not say “I go to the market with 50 CFA and I want to buy an orange of 25 CFA. How much do I have left after?”. After teaching we quikly left for radio Guira, the CAR radio station managed and paid for by the UN mission (MINUSCA). Here we did a 45min interview, of me together with my two research assistants Bonheur anIMG_0613d Petrouchka. This was great also because in this way, we were able to do the interview in both French and Sango. What was difficult however was the journalist asking me whether or not to use the chicotte (whip) in the classroom. She clearly thought it was not violent at all. I don’t want to be the white girl who says: don’t use the chicotte, because then people will not take me seriously. But I don’t want to say “use the chicotte” either…so what to do? I ended up saying that the people in CAR in my opinion, need to consider the relation between violence in the classrooms and their wish to have peace in the country, and I referred to the chicotte historically being an instrument used by the colonizers on black slaves… At the end of the day I met with someone from the World Bank working on education in CAR. Had a little time to tell her about my research findings and give her the report, hoping it will make a difference. Also shared my critique of their latest plan for “creating peace in CAR”, which focuses too much on quick results through quantitative and practical means, rather than a more profound change. How would you create peace in a country that has not known peace for at least 25 years..?

Marieke Hopman


6 november 2017

Publicatie rapport recht van het kind op onderwijs in CAR

6 november 2017 | By | No Comments

Beste allen,

Hieronder vindt u mijn populair-wetenschappelijke onderzoeksrapport over het recht van het kind op onderwijs in de Centraal Afrikaanse Republiek. Links de Engelse versie, rechts de Franse (klik op de gewenste afbeelding)! Mocht iemand vragen hebben, neemt u aub contact op via

voorkant rapport frans

voorkant rapport engels










Marieke Hopman


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


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


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


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.



Marieke Hopman


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