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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 11:59 GMT
Teachers' diary from a Sudan refugee camp
Wendy Packer, Head of English at the Blue Coat School in Birmingham. (Picture: Education Action)
Wendy Packer, Head of English at the Blue Coat School in Birmingham.
Teachers Wendy Packer and David Morgan spent a week in Sudan teaching in the capital's camps for displaced people.

Back in the UK, their pupils from the Blue Coat School in Birmingham and Bancroft's School in Woodford Green, Essex raised money for Sudanese people.

Alongside another six teachers, they travelled to Khartoum with the charity Education Action.

Here, Wendy and David, who are both English department heads, report on their experiences.

Sunday 12 February

David Morgan, Head of English at Bancroft's School in Woodford Green, Essex. (Picture: Education Action)
David Morgan, Head of English at Bancroft's School in Woodford Green, Essex.
It's 4.10 am and Khartoum Airport is surprisingly busy. We are embarking on a journey into the heart of Sudan to witness teaching in the most difficult of circumstances. We will be visiting schools in camps around Khartoum, home to two million people displaced mainly from southern Sudan by 21 years of civil war.

Sharing experience with local teachers, learning about education and poverty issues in Sudan is soon to become a reality for us all. After months of planning and fund-raising, we are relieved to have finally made it here. The thrill of arrival overcomes any tiredness from the journey.

Monday 13 February

Soba Aradi Camp on the outskirts of Khartoum. ((Picture: Education Action)
Soba Aradi Camp on the outskirts of Khartoum.
We are on our way to Soba Aradi Camp on the outskirts of Khartoum, home to 700,000 internally displaced people. The city gives way to a vast, flat desert with endless rows of mud houses. Gusts of wind blow sand across the barren landscape. We never expected to see sights like this. Arriving at the Displaced People's International school things change - a sea of beaming faces greets us. Hundreds of children in brightly coloured uniforms emerge from straw-and-mud classrooms. Their welcome is overwhelming.

In the afternoon, we visit a women's self-help group, Al Asala, and the Mayo School for disabled children. The community-based organisations that run these schools are making sure that all sections of these communities get a chance to learn.

What we are seeing here is truly inspiring. The enthusiasm, the energy and the desire to learn amidst the poverty of the makeshift camps is incredible.

Tuesday 14 February

Today we meet our partner teachers and observe their lessons. We will be splitting up to work in two schools for the next three days.

KIMU Charitable School in Soba Camp provides primary education for 600 children. A labyrinth of dusty tracks leads to a lively, friendly hub of learning. The classrooms are crammed with children, squeezed together on simple metal benches, all eager to learn. Being on the edge of the city means there is no protection from the wind - sand gets blown constantly into the open classrooms making it difficult to see or breathe.

Students from Kinnetti Secondary School. (Picture: Education Action)
In contrast, Kinnetti Secondary School is an oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling capital. Birds sing in the trees as young men stand chatting quietly in their tribal groups, waiting for lessons to start. Head teacher Jackson Kambala Omi explains that the young men in his charge, most of whom are ex child-soldiers, have been through unimaginable horrors. In each bulging classroom one hundred students aged between 15 and 35 hang on their teacher's every word.

Wednesday15 February

David Morgan shares some ideas with a teacher from KIMU Charitable School in Soba Camp. (Picture: Education Action)
This afternoon we plan our joint lessons with our Sudanese colleagues for tomorrow. The exchange of ideas is lively, constructive and hugely enjoyable; but things are not easy. We hear about a severe lack of resources and low salaries for teachers in Sudan that won't even cover the cost of their accommodation. Most of those teaching in the camps are working voluntarily and take home tutoring jobs in the evenings to earn money.

We are awed by the sacrifices they are making in their lives to ensure the future of the next generation of their people. In addition, the teachers at Kinnetti must use great sensitivity and gentle handling to help the students cope with their terrible experiences. In all the schools we visit, many of the teachers only have a secondary education and are crying out for proper training. It is this that Education Action is committed to providing, but more funds are desperately needed.

Thursday16 February

Wendy Packer teaching some Sudanese students. (Picture: Education Action)
So now we must teach! At KIMU School the morning parade is just beginning: Well-drilled children sing their National Anthem with gusto. When lessons start, topics range from "Ten Green Bottles" to Jane Eyre. In Kinnetti lessons on the speed of sound, the present passive continuous (eek!) and Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday all play a part.

We are faced with 100 students in a cramped classroom with nothing but a blackboard, chalk and our imaginations to help. For us, these are real lessons in classroom management in the most difficult of circumstances. It's a very humbling but fulfilling experience. In return, we hope we have given an insight to the teachers here into more interactive, child-friendly styles of teaching.

Our new-found friendships are really touching and we are very sad to say goodbye to both schools. The sense of a shared purpose as teachers underpins everything we have done.

Friday 17 February

Education Action have provided desks and benches but with 100 children in each classroom, there are not enough to go round and some children use their knees. (Picture: Education Action)
Education Action have provided desks and benches but with 100 children in each classroom, there are not enough to go round and some children use their knees.
This morning we meet with the co-ordinators of the community-based organisations that have set up these schools. Their umbrella group SENAD, supported by Education Action for the last 10 years, is the driving force behind education in the displacement camps. It stands for empowerment through education and together they reach over 12,000 students each year. It is moving to talk to such a dedicated and dignified group of people.

After one year of peace the desire amongst the people in the camps to return home to the south is growing ever stronger. Training teachers and educating children are everyone's priorities so that they can go back and rebuild their country. They have waited 20 years for this but progress in the south to generate jobs and build schools and hospitals is really slow. It could be years before they can return.

Saturday18 February

Students in the classroom. (Picture: Education Action)
As we leave the camps for the last time we take with us a sense of hope but also some understanding of the enormity of the task ahead. We have been inspired by our experiences, moved by our encounters. We have so much to take back to our own schools; we look forward to sharing everything we have learned in Sudan. Optimism is everywhere but education will be vital in shaping the country's future. Only with it will the hopes and dreams of these wonderful people be realised.

Back to school

Many teachers are volunteers which means they often don't turn up if they find other paid work in the city. (Picture: Education Action)
Many teachers are volunteers which means they often don't turn up if they find other paid work in the city.
Now back in the UK, the contrast with the schools we saw last week is almost overwhelming. It is difficult now not to notice the thousands of things we take for granted in our regular teaching lives. We shall be talking to all the pupils we teach about the wonderfully rewarding experiences we had in the camps and encouraging them to support this valuable work.

To find out more about future teachers' visits or to make a donation, go to www.education-action.org or call 020 7426 5802.

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