The COVID-19 pandemic poses a social threat to people in the world’s largest refugee camps. In addition to the health concerns of the virus, the closure of schools in camps puts displaced and refugee students at risk of becoming further disadvantaged.
An unprecedented 1.6 billion children have had their schooling disrupted, while UNESCO estimates that 91 per cent of students in formal education have seen a change to their programmes.
The closures could disproportionately affect students in refugee camps, who have uneven access to the tools required for remote and online learning. Without intervention, they could fall further behind in their education.
In partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Vodafone Foundation is committed to connecting 500,000 refugee and host community students through its Instant Network Schools (INS), a tool that has become a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dieu Merci, a youth leader in the Inke refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has used INS to stay informed about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread in the camp. The 24-year-old has also used it to connect with family members in the Central African Republic (CAR), which he fled on his own seven years ago.
Modeste Gervais Nvoungbo, who left the CAR at the same time with her children and two nephews, said INS has been vital in giving residents of the camp access to health news, as well offering a place where they can escape and learn.
“COVID-19 has left no one indifferent and is affecting everyone,” said Nvoungbo, a hygiene promoter for NGO Acted and Law graduate. “Many refugees are left without work, there is no mass, no school nor community games and we are no longer allowed outside the camp.”
INS technology is also helping refugees in South Sudan stay connected to education and health resources, while the Vodafone Greece Foundation is using its Instant Classroom technology to help refugee families learn remotely during the country’s lockdown.
In Kenya, as in many other parts of the world, schools have closed to limit the spread of the virus. This has limited the extent to which students in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps can access INS. To fill the gap, artist Lisa Milroy has been teaching Hands On Art Workshops through WhatsApp. Normally streamed through INS video conference facilities, supported by Vodafone Foundation and UNHCR, Milroy has connected with a few students through their mobile phones. She guides students over WhatsApp and gives feedback to the paintings and drawings they send back to her.
Earlier this year, Milroy took students on their first school trip, with a virtual reality tour of the National Gallery.
Anicet Koudouli, a teacher at Inke camp expressed his gratitude for INS and its staff for working “relentlessly”. For him, it has helped breathe life into the camp during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Without education, you’re only half alive,” he said.
To learn more about how we're helping families, communities and businesses to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit www.vodafone.com/covid19.