AFRICA/IVORY COAST - Some school doors open, some pupils arrive but no teachers. A missionary from northern Ivory Coast tells the story

Thursday, 26 February 2004

Abidjan (Fides Service)- “Some pupils went to school but they found no teachers” said a missionary in Bouake, main city in northern Ivory Coast held by “New Forces” rebel group. “Schools were officially opened in Ivory Coast for the school year on Friday 20 February; on Monday 23 pupils arrived but no teachers so the children were sent home again” the missionary told Fides.
“The Abidjan government did assign teachers for this region but not many turned up because there are hardly school buildings left. During the civil war the rebels destroyed everything which they saw as government owned: army barracks, police stations and even hospitals and schools. Most schools were reduced to a heap of rubbles. Because banks and financial institutions here are still closed teachers are unable to draw their salary. So far the only buildings being repaired are 3 military barracks where the rebel troops will settle once the disarmament process is completed”.
“There is another problem» the missionary said. “A few months ago the temporary New Forces administration declared the school year open and recruited ‘teachers’ to work at the few schools still standing. Most of these self styled teachers were older pupils and now they are demanding pay (much higher than the normal teacher’s wage) and a stable teaching job from the government. The government has so far ignored the request and there have been cases of self-styled teachers using fist and foot to prevent state teachers from taking the assigned places”.
“Also in government controlled regions refugee children who fled rebel controlled areas find it difficult to go to school” the missionary said. “Only locally resident children have returned to school to begin the school year. Schools refuse to accept children of refugee families fearing overcrowding. In fact classes are usually numerous, as many as 40-50 pupils, and if refugee children were accepted this would mean classes of 100 pupils which is clearly impossible ”.
“Catholic schools are the only ones which have regularly opened for the new school year,” the missionary said. “Among the many activities of the local Church I would mention one parish in Bouake which has a programme to help girls abducted and kept as prisoners by the rebels for several months and then freed. These girls, aged between 12 and 16 years, have suffered all sorts of violence”.
“However despite persisting difficulties, the atmosphere is one of hope. People are determined to turn the page, put an end to the war and a divided country. On March 8 the disarmament process so often postponed should finally start and we hope this marks the beginning of a return to normal for Ivory Coast” the missionary concludes. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 26/2/2004, righe 39 parole 508)