Atuu’s One Book Project to Increase Literacy
by Raja M Ali
Everybody accepts that life can be unfair. But maybe it is not.
At the surface level, Atuu Waonaje’s life is an embodiment of injustice, cruelty and unfairness. He was born poor in an impoverished country and became a refugee at 15 years of age. Still a teenager, he lost his parents, had no possessions and was forced to take care of not only himself but also his brother.
How can fate be more unjust to a person? But looking deeper, we realize that while nature took many things away from Atuu, it also gave him gifts — such as compassion, drive and the confidence to make something out of nothing — which few of us can claim.
Turmoil, calamities and injustice didn’t bog down Atuu and while still in a refugee camp in Tanzania, he started CELA, the Centre for Youth Development and Adult Education, which was so successful that it won him the Women’s Refugee Commission Voice of Courage Award in 2007.
CELA, however, is an old story and Atuu is not resting on his laurels. He has recently started a new project called One Book Project (OBP).
Atuu observed that:
- There is neither a resource centre nor a library in his city, Fizi Territory (in the Democratic Republic of Congo), which means a large number of students have no access to information except what they learn at school;
- Young guys have not much to do after school. They generally do not have a habit of reading for pleasure or information and most even don’t know how to use a dictionary;
- People have books which are unused.
Ordinary people would have looked at the situation and done nothing but Atuu started OBP which collects books from various individuals and then puts them in a resource centre/library for use by locals. The main aims of the project are:
- Promoting a reading culture among community members who have lost that culture due to the war. Maybe starting a reading week.
- Empowering villagers with skills through books and connecting them with the world.
- Increasing literacy.
Atuu has already managed to collects a small number of books but for his project to achieve these aims, he needs your help. You can reach him by email.
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and Secondary School
- Shafie Primary and Secondary School is an IDP school, established 1994, has 1870 students, grade range from 1 to 14.
- Subjects taught: Science, Maths, Social Studies, Arabic, English, Somali, and Arts.
- I believe this can take a big role in the development of children and youth. We request from RESPECT full collaboration.
Yaounde RESPECT Club
- Since January 2005, a group of 8 urban Burundese refugees ages 13 to 18 years has correspond with the Bourg Madame High School Solidarity Club in the South West of France.
- The members of the Club come from several high schools in the city of Yaounde.
Exchanges with Nestor Nyoma, RESPECT Club Coordinator
by Sandrine Cortet
Nestor Nyoma is a Burundese urban refugee. Aged 23, he is a high school student in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. His scholarship was affected by his refugee status.
Last November, he contacted RESPECT to ask for a pen pal via a RESPECT letter exchange program. Urban refugees are scattered in the schools of the city based on where they live. For example, Nestor is the only refugee in his classroom. Hence, a school letter exchange seemed unrealistic. After a few email exchanges with Nestor, we decided to create a RESPECT Club in Yaounde.
At the same time, the Bourg Madame High School Solidarity Club in the South West of France was applying for a letter exchange with eight refugees aged 13-15, the same age as their members. Nestor was in charge of recruiting eight refugees to exchange letters with them. Young refugees from his area were older so we extended the age range to 18 years old. For two young refugees aged 13 and 14, Nestor had to talk to their parents to explain the program in order to obtain their agreement.
On a Saturday, Nestor gathered the freshly recruited young refugees in a room of Yaounde University where his community usually meets. The Yaounde RESPECT Club was born. The group is now meeting once a month. Nestor is the coordinator and he will always keep in touch by emails with RESPECT and with the Bourg Madame High School Teacher.
Who is Nestor? What is his story as a refugee? How is the Yaounde RESPECT Club going to be run? Here are few questions he kindly answered and to help us to better understand the refugee life in Yaounde.
RESPECT: Could you tell us where you come from, your roots, your family?
Nestor Nyoma: I did my first steps in Burima II near Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. My whole family is from Bujumbura (rural), a war devastated Burundese Province. I don’t like talking about my family because I have been separated from them for a long time. I don’t have any news. I avoid speaking about that to lighten the nostalgia as well.
RESPECT: What do you want to say about your character?
Nestor Nyoma: I hate the contempt, I am willing to help and a little talkative when necessary.
RESPECT: What is important in your heart?
Nestor Nyoma: To find my relatives again and to rebuild my life in dignity.
RESPECT: Since when have you been living in Yaounde?
Nestor Nyoma: I came to in Cameroon on October 18, 1995. I spent three years in one of the Missionary Sisters convent, then, in 1998, I arrived in Yaounde.
RESPECT: Before creating the RESPECT Club, you were involved in the refugee community, what did you do?
Nestor Nyoma: In the current context, it is hard to say “keep your hope,” however, if you lose hope, you lose the vitality that keeps you moving as well. You lose the courage of Being, this quality that helps you to go further despite everything. This conviction was the reason for me to create a soccer team in 2000. I named it: “RWARUKA Espoir F.C.” in my mother tongue, which means “Youth Hope.” The purpose is to meet during the weekends to do sports but also to meet other young Cameroonese at vacation championships and to be well integrated in our adopted countries. In the Burundese refugee community, I performed several positions: Arbitrage Council member, then Account Commissioner, and Vice-president. Besides this, I have taken part in the creation of a Cameroon Refugee Communities Group (CCRC, Collectif des Communautés des Réfugiés du Cameroun) when the HCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) closed its doors in Yaounde, we wished to be able to defend our rights and to plea for a reopening of HCR because we felt abandoned and by ourselves.
RESPECT: What do you have in common with other Burundese except for coming from the same country?
Nestor Nyoma: We share the same pains mostly. We face the same difficulties due to our refugee condition. Thus, we have to combine our efforts to overcome our problems. That is why we created a community called CO.B.Y (Communauté Burundaise de Yaoundé, Yaounde Burundese Community). We meet in the community like we do with the soccer team I talked about. I used to be a drum player in a group (a basic instrument in our culture). We meet 3 times a year in General Assembly, more if necessary. We have developed a solidarity spirit despite the level of poverty in which most of us are living. It can induce misunderstandings; like in any refugee communities.
RESPECT: Do you feel close to other refugees who are not from Burundi?
Nestor Nyoma: “To be brother is not to look at each other, but to look in the same direction.” Yes, I feel close to other refugees from different nationalities. I even have a bunch of friends from other communities like the Liberian, Centrafrican, Congolese and Chadian ones.
RESPECT: What do you expect from a RESPECT letter exchange?
Nestor Nyoma: Exchange and the experience we can gain from it.
RESPECT: What has motivated the other young refugees in taking part in this program?
Nestor Nyoma: The willingness to discover other people from a country different from Africa. The wish to have an idea about what happens in other places.
RESPECT: Do you have any project ideas to make the Club run?
Nestor Nyoma: It will depend on how the exchange turns out and on the young refugees’ interest. During our meeting, I can suggest to create a newspaper style writing for them to express themselves. We’ll see later if we can have an official site. So far, I cannot promise great things.
RESPECT: How do you access the Internet?
Nestor Nyoma: In a cyber cafe, where we pay based on the connection time. Usually, it costs 500 CFA Francs per hour (about US$ 1). This is where I printed the RESPECT form. Then, I made the 8 copies in a copy shop to save money. Young refugees have filled out their forms at home and on the day of mailing each one, we gave 100 CFA Francs to pay the postage.
RESPECT: Where is the post office situated?
Nestor Nyoma: It is 4 km from my home. To receive letters from France, I won’t have to pay for a taxi. I have subscribed to somebody who lives close to my home; he will give me the mail in exchange of 100 CFA francs for each package.
RESPECT: Why can’t you receive mail at your home?
Nestor Nyoma: Because of administrative formalities. Even though I am recognized as a refugee by the HCR since 1996, the Cameroonese government does not recognize us as refugees because there is neither a national eligibility structure nor a national legislation about refugees. This ambiguous condition explains just one part of our problems.
RESPECT: How will it work when the Club members receive the letters?
Nestor Nyoma: I will gather the letters to dispatch to the refugees. If I have time I will take the letters to their homes.
RESPECT: How do the Club members write their letters?
Nestor Nyoma: We agree that I won’t interfere in the letter exchange. Each Club member will be able to write freely his/her letter and then bring it back to me. Everybody will have to follow the same rhythm in order to mail the letters together in the same envelope to save money. If one of the young members encounters difficulties to reply to his/her pen pal or if he doesn’t understand something, I will help him/her but still allow them the freedom of content.
Ayifli Fred Kodzo
As the Country Coordinator for RESPECT Ghana I believe that issues of refugees everywhere need our urgent attention but should we always wait to see our brothers and sisters, mothers and children become refugees before we start showing our love and concern? Are we as a people and global citizens well informed about issues of refugees and on the rights entitled to refugees for international protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol? How about the rights of refugees, enshrined in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights which gives the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution?.
The fundamental truth is that whether we like it or not, we are all global citizens and in today’s globalized world, we cannot escape the fact that actions taken in the Europe and North America, Asia and all over the world do have reverberations in Ghana, and in a similar vein, war in Africa affects Europe and North America as well. We can no longer afford to ignore our common humanity or focus our vision narrowly on our own interests, our own people or our own problems. This is the true meaning of globalization. The world’s problems, and the world’s successes, today belong to all of us. We are responsible for each other, and we must RESPECT one another.
This essentially is the motivation behind my duty as the Country Coordinator for RESPECT Ghana, I see this role as an opportunity to also reach out and promote the goals of human rights and world peace. I am optimistic that with my team members and with your help and ideas we can raise awareness about refugee issues through our ever widening networks and affiliations. There is an urgent need to make the world a better place devoid of wars, disputes and terrorist attacks. Please do not hesitate but subscribe with us and let us push our vision forward with your wonderful ideas and solutions to make the world a better place for all.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Primary School Ase’Eci has 6 classes, but only 3 are running due to the difficulties in the country.
- The school is situated near the Uvira-Fizi road in DRC. It is bordered by Lake Tanganyika in the East, by the mountains in the West, by the Kahama village in the North and by the Pemba mountain in the South.
- Lessons are given in Swahili and French.
- A penpal programme is vital for us.
- 66 students are interested by RESPECT International programme and would like to find a penpal.
- Our school has numerous problems. We would like you to guide us, advise us and assist us, as you can, to try and answer the needs expressed by the children in their letters. We have no support to help them.
Help this schoo or other refugee schools like it from our website: http://www.respectrefugees.org/
Adjei Alex has been coordinating various activities for RESPECT Guinea. Recently, he was appointed as Principal for Nelson Mandela International School.
He has shown tremendous enthusiasm in working with RESPECT International. He hopes that RESPECT will start receiving more letters for the students of his school.
RESPECT recently received a package containing letters from refugees students in Liberia. Once they are sorted, the letters will be sent to non-refugee students to be answered.