By Peter Duru – Makurdi
The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has expressed concern over the absence of a school for the over 3,000 children of school age at the Uikpam Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, camp in Guma Local Government Area, LGA, of Benue state.
The Chief of UNICEF Field Office Enugu, Dr. Ibrahim Conteh raised the concern weekend, during his visit to the Abagena IDPs camp in Makurdi LGA, the Daudu 1 and Uikpam IDPs camps both in Guma LGA, where he monitored the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, interventions of the global body in the three camps.
While expressing shock at the situation in the Uipkam camp, Dr. Conteh noted that it was unacceptable for children to learn under trees without proper structures as well as adequate teaching and learning aid.
He said: “Normally when people are displaced they have nothing, so in the service to them there are usual gaps. A lot of organizations have done quite a lot in the camps in terms of medical facilities especially for outreach; even in terms of food security the government is doing a lot. But we can always do more, it’s never sufficient.
“This is a camp (Uipkam) with over 27,000 people and there is a lot that is required. UNICEF has done tremendously well by making sure that the borehole that was already drilled here that was not functioning has been made functional.
“We also made sure that the water is connected to its distribution points. We have constructed VIP Latrines and bathrooms with showers for them. That is good because the host community and the IDPs are extremely happy to have these facilities since before now they were practicing open defecation. But now they can boast of latrines and showers that can take care of their sanitation.
“Like I said, the needs are enormous but in the education front I am really quite surprised and shocked that there is no form of schooling here at Uikpam.
“There are over 3,000 school age children, but these children are not going to school at all. There is an ad hoc arrangement for some of the kids to be taught under trees but that is not appropriate and it is also not sustainable.
“So one of the biggest demands of this community is for temporary learning centres which can at least, in an organized way, have their children attend school.
“They have some volunteer teachers who are doing a good job but if they don’t have school materials, if they don’t have a structure where these children will be sitting with tables and chairs in the building itself, it will not go down well for them.
“So I think this is an area we will have to look into very seriously. At the moment I cannot actually promise that we are going to do something tomorrow or next month but I think this is an area that we have to look at seriously as UNICEF, by making sure that the rights of children are being upheld.
“I am going to talk to my colleagues to make sure that for this new (Uikpam) camp, over and above what is already being provided, we could also look at education specifically.
“I understand some of the teachers have been trained but then there are no classrooms, there are no school materials and there is no proper structure. So these are all the areas we will have to look into.
“I am also going to be talking to the government, the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, and the State Ministry of Education so that they can also put this as part of their programme when making allocation for education because this community needs the support,” he said.
Dr. Conteh explained that the visit to the camps was for monitoring purposes, stressing that, “we came, we did an assessment, we looked at what are already there in the camps and what is needed. We prioritize on what is needed.”
The Chief also commended the various WASH committees in the camps for doing a good job and ensuring cleanliness in the camps.
In their separate responses, Managers of the camps visited including Iliagh Terhile of Abagena, Angela Omirigbe of Daudu I and Matthew Asaaga of Uikpam camps all commended UNICEF for the interventions.
They asked for more and called on other organizations to emulate the global organization to alleviate the plight of the IDPs.