This is the time of year focused on children opening special packages. And none more special than the 120 school boxes packed in recent days in Helston. They are bound today for Niger where children and their families have fled the atrocities of extremists Boko Haram

Staff, volunteers and response team members made a special push this week to pack 120 school boxes. Today the boxes are on their way to provide up to 6,000 children with the equipment needed to restart their education in a part of Africa rocked by violence and bloodshed.

Attacks by Boko Haram in North East Africa have forced over a million children out of school, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report issued this week. The militant group, which aims to establish an ISIS-style government in Nigeria, has killed thousands of people since launching a brutal insurgency in the country six years ago.

Boko Haram’s actions are now said by UNICEF to have closed over 2,000 schools across Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, with some shut for more than a year due to the conflict. The schools have been attacked, looted and at times set on fire by Boko Haram militants.

ShelterBox has been active in Niger and Cameroon over months. In Niger alone 916 ShelterBoxes have already been sent to families in the western regions of Niamey, Tillaberri and Dosso following severe flooding, 500 ShelterBoxes have been distributed to refugees from neighbouring Nigeria, and a further 100 to the village of Assaga. 484 more are in storage in the region awaiting distribution to refugees.

But it was the plight of refugee children and their education, as spelt out graphically in UNICEF’s report on Monday, that triggered a further fast-track response from ShelterBox in recent days. Inevitably, in the run up to Christmas holidays, there is a shortage of volunteers to help pack boxes at the charity’s Helston, Cornwall HQ. But the call went out, and a mix of volunteers, staff and locally-based response team members rolled up their sleeves and packed 120 school boxes in record time ready for shipment to Niger today.

Operations Coordinator Ayeasia Macintyre says,

 

 

I would just like to say a huge thank you to everyone that helped with the school box pack for Niger, and a special thank you to the warehouse team for making it happen at such short notice.

‘The shipment will be picked up on Wednesday and will be distributed to existing schools in the Diffa region that are receiving children of new arriving families, fleeing Boko Haram violence. Education is a really important factor in enabling families to recover, and for children at risk to claim their childhood back and invest in their future.’

The school boxes are to support children that have had to move with their families due to frequent cross-border attacks by Boko Haram within Niger itself. Supporting the capacity of local schools will allow parents the time to focus on their recovery, knowing that their children are safe in school.

Each school box contains essential supplies for teachers, including blackboard paint and chalk, wind-up radios, along with school and writing equipment for 50 children.

Many children are the direct witnesses or victims of atrocities by Boko Haram. The trauma that the sect have inflicted is so severe that some children will not speak or eat when they arrive. The structure of school and psychosocial interventions support these vulnerable children to claim back their childhood, and invest in their future.

Boko Haram, which literally means ‘Western-style education is sin’, is mostly based in north eastern Nigeria, but has lately spread its campaign in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The number of children missing out on schooling due to the ongoing conflict adds to the estimated 11 million who were already out of school in the area, according to UNICEF.

ShelterBox school boxes were also distributed in recent months in Aleppo, one of Syria’s most war-damaged cities, via ShelterBox distribution partner, Hand in Hand for Syria.