|Towards Responsive Schools Supporting Better Schooling for Disadvantaged Children - Education Research Paper No. 38 (DFID, 2000, 270 p.)|
|SECTION III. CHILDREN AFFECTED BY CONFLICT|
analysis: Rosa Alien. Cornelius Uma, Peter Colenso, Una McCauley, Bart Witteveen,
writing: Jo White, Bridget Crumpton
editor: Emma Cain
contributors: Jane Gibreel. Gaby Schembri, Amanda Harding
What are the problems for children?
The civil war
Seven years of civil war devastated the political, social and economic life of Liberia in the period 1989 to 1997. The conflict was characterised by indiscriminate killing and mass displacement of the civilian population as a direct result of fighting between different factions, largely divided along ethnic lines. Of Liberia's pre-war population of 2.4 million, more than 150,000 died, 700,000 people (half of whom were children), became refugees in neighbouring Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, and a further one million were displaced from their homes, some as many as four or five times. National structures and services and local community coping mechanisms deteriorated rapidly amidst widespread destruction and population displacement1.
Since 1997, Liberia has entered a notional period of peace and attention has centred on rehabilitation and reconstruction backed up by international assistance. However, the peace is fragile and there is a strong potential for further conflict in the years to come.
Impact of the conflict on children and child soldiers
Living through conflict and its aftermath has a huge impact on children's lives2. Children in Liberia were often in constant fear of their lives, witnessing at first hand the violence of war, and have been severely affected by trauma and instability. In February 1994 research revealed that 61% of high school students in the capital Monrovia had seen someone killed, tortured or raped, and that 71% had lost a close friend or relative. Many other children were affected directly by the war: being uprooted from their homes, often separated from their families through displacement, missing out on their education and experiencing the impact of economic collapse on their families3.
In addition, a number of children actively participated in the conflict, an experience which had a devastating impact on their lives (see Box on Child Soldiers). Figures for this group vary significantly, reflecting the difficulty of obtaining data in times of conflict and particularly from rival factions. UNICEF estimates 15,000 child soldiers, whereas Save the Children's calculation gives a lower figure of 8,000, representing about 20% of the factions' armed forces4.
Despite their different experience of war, in the post conflict period civilian and ex-combatant children now face similar problems with regard to educational needs: Both groups have missed out on vital years of education due to the collapse of the school system and displacement, lost members of their family, experienced extreme trauma, and been deprived of key phases in their development, limiting their preparation for life skills.
Box 1: Child Soldiers in Liberia
All of the principal warring factions in Liberia used children in warfare, through both forced and voluntary recruitment. The position of child soldiers was primarily a servile one in which they were treated as slaves to faction leaders. During their service in the war, children served as porters, checkpoint guards, spies, executioners and front-line fighters. Children who received combat training were subject to the same conditions as adults as part of an effort to toughen them. While most child fighters were boys, girls were also involved both in conflict and through forced recruitment as soldiers' 'wives'.
Throughout the conflict, children were ideal targets for recruitment as they proved to be easier to control and manipulate than adults. Between 1993 and 1995 the number of armed factions fighting the war increased and these groups found themselves competing for recruits. As the war continued and most adult males had either already been recruited or fled the fighting, children, particularly the most vulnerable groups and those without families, were actively targeted and rounded up. In total, Save the Children estimates that as many as 10,000 child soldiers were active during the conflict. A significant number joined alongside their father or an older male relative, but as the war evolved, abduction of children by different factions became more widespread.
The reasons for children 'volunteering' to become soldiers are complex. Survival and protection reflect the primary reasons. Becoming a soldier offered children access to food, a commodity in increasingly short supply as the war continued. It also offered protection to the children and their families: some parents actively encouraged their children to join a faction to discourage harassment from other fighters in the area. Interviews conducted with Liberian children who were drawn into the conflict reveal the range of reasons:
'My parents were killed in 1990 so I joined.... in self-defence' 17 year old ex-combatant
'When the recruitment bus came, a friend told me its purpose and advantages and I just jumped in' 13 year old ex-combatant
I was very scared and confused. Rebels took away all our food, clothes and money, looted our town and killed our town chief 16 year old ex-combatant5
The education sector in Liberia Before the war, state education in Liberia was traditional in approach and low in quality. The education sector was struggling to cope with demographic pressures (over 40% of the population was under 15) and financial constraints. Liberia had the second lowest literacy rates in the world, at around 17%6 and in 1989 only 35% of active teachers had undergone formal teacher training7. Before the outbreak of the war. the Ministry of Education (MoE) attempted to extend education by opening three to four state primary schools in each of the country's districts.
There were also a number of private schools run by religious institutions, companies or individuals located throughout the country but these were not widely accessible to the majority of Liberians as many could not afford to buy the uniforms or pay the fees.
Funding became a major problem following the coup and subsequent death of President Samuel Doe in 1990. Teachers in state schools were not paid regularly, books and other materials were in short supply, and as a result the standard of teaching deteriorated. In areas where schools actually existed, many were in disrepair, with cramped classrooms. Cost was a major deterrent to families, especially the poorest, sending their children to school: enrolment fees and minimum requirements such as school uniforms represented a heavy financial burden beyond the reach of many families, both rural and urban8.
The long period of war and instability has had a cumulative effect on the basic infrastructure of the country, devastating local services. The education sector was no exception. Many school facilities were looted or vandalised during the years of instability. As fighting continued, many people, including teachers, were displaced and increasing numbers of children had no access to regular education due to displacement, school closure or recruitment to a warring faction, who exploited their lack of education and experience. As Liberia emerged from the war, the Ministry of Education found itself desperately short of facilities and expertise (a problem which has continued throughout the post-conflict period) and under pressure to provide education to the large number of children who had not only missed out on vital years of education but had been severely affected by the trauma and instability of war.
In addition to these challenges, attempts to resume basic services such as education took place in a heavily constrained environment. The war had shattered the national economy and government funds were scarce. Job opportunities, particularly for those without relevant skills and experience such as demobilised fighters, were few and far between. As a result, many families and communities found themselves with few resources with which to support themselves and the education of their children.
How the Save the Children programme evolved
Save the Children started work in Liberia in 1991. during the war years, and has become a big player in the sectors of food security, health and social welfare activities. This broad-based approach reflected a strategic choice to build up the credibility and authority of the organisation to subsequently engage in debate on more contentious issues such as child protection and rights. In the post-conflict period, Save the Children's work is shifting towards broader rehabilitation and developmental initiatives. Work with former child soldiers has formed a key component of its programme. What is interesting about its work in this area, is that what started as a spontaneous response to the immediate needs of a group of children evolved into a broad programme of support to the national process of demobilisation, taking the agency into unplanned activities such as support to catch up education for children who had missed out on education as a result of war.
The initial objective of Save the Children's work with child soldiers was to support family tracing and reunification at the point of their formal demobilisation. Transit centres were created as a temporary input to provide demobilised children with a secure base from which to trace their families, and to assist them in their reintegration both into their families and the wider community. The programme was based on Save the Children's work with a small group of former child combatants (described in detail in the following section) which provided the organisation with practical experience and insight into the situation and needs of the group as a basis for support to the formal programme of national demobilisation, started in late 1996
The transit centre approach was largely modelled on the work of other child-focused partner organisations in Liberia, who already had substantial experience of working with children with particular needs, such as street children and demobilised children. This approach was 'child-centred' in that it took the needs of children and their situation as its starting point.
In common with other governments emerging from periods of extensive conflict, the Liberian government was weak, under-resourced and under pressure. Similarly, civil society and community structures had broken down during the war, leaving a vacuum for external agencies in terms of who to work with as institutional partners. These represent fundamental issues for international agencies. If they engage in direct service delivery, do they run the risk of creating parallel structures that are not sustainable? Or do they become an alternative channel for donor aid which risks undermining the development and authority of a state structure? Save the Children maintains the flexibility to engage in short-term service delivery only as required by the context. At the outset of the former child soldier programme, it was paramount for Save the Children to retain an independent and neutral position, because of the sensitivities in working with military factions, and links with government were kept to a minimum. Only as the programme became increasingly concerned with education, did it become important for Save the Children to develop stronger links with relevant government departments, to ensure complementarity with state education systems, and local communities. This also raised the question of sustainability - if the programme was to engage in catch up education and extend to community children, then strategies for making links with government programmes and sustaining children's involvement would now need to be explored.
How did the programme start?
Save the Children first began working directly with child soldiers in June 1996 through an unplanned initiative with a small group of 22 boys who had been demobilised in a one off demobilisation and stranded without assistance. The boys had settled in Virginia, a settlement just outside the capital Monrovia. Growing tensions between the local community and the boys, fuelled by their aggressive behaviour, resulted in a radio appeal to which Save the Children responded. Because of the pressing needs of the children, Save the Children began to work closely with them, and in July 1996 established a transit centre in Virginia, to provide the ex-combatants with shelter and protection while their details were taken and family tracing activities initiated.
Once Save the Children became involved, staff explored ways to fill the boys' days, starting with an emphasis on recreation and sport and the introduction of small tasks. The combination of a more structured, caring environment and an opportunity to channel energies on team sport rather than violence helped the boys to modify their behaviour, becoming more collaborative, and building up their self esteem.
Over time, activities became more systematised and the boys were offered several options: farming, learning to read and write, or training in handicrafts such as stool making. Classes were held daily and the boys were encouraged to try different activities and find their own skills and preference. The voluntary literacy classes, which developed without any formalised curriculum, soon sowed the seeds of achievement. The teachers were largely drawn from neighbouring communities, selected more for their personal qualities in dealing with a potentially confrontation situation than for their formal teaching skills9.
The majority of boys had had their education dramatically cut short by the onset of war and were desperate to resume their schooling as a priority. The boys often collected together any scrap paper they could find and Save the Children encouraged their initiative by providing exercise books, paper, pencils, colouring crayons and easy-to-read books. For many, the literacy classes provided a new-found confidence in their ability and a positive attitude towards education:
I will never be a soldier again. I want to go to school (but my mother is too poor. I want to be a productive farmer)... I want to attain college level in agriculture' Papa, ex-child fighter aged 16 years.
I want to go to school through all my life' Junior, ex-child fighter aged 15 year 10
Subsequently catch up classes became the central pillar of daily activities in Virginia transit camp. These were developed to provide longer, more intensive learning once it became evident that family tracing could potentially take months and that boys would benefit from more sustained educational input. What originally began as a recreational, rehabilitative and largely non-formal exercise, evolved into a more formalized education programme. This programme informed Save the Children's later involvement with children in the demobilisation process, providing a model for further activities in the new transit centres which were established.
Extending the programme
Save the Children became one of the key international agencies in Liberia responsible for the tracing and reunification of all child soldiers during demobilisation and was instrumental in ensuring that children going through the demobilisation process were dealt with as children and not just another fighter. Building on the success of the Virginia Transit Centre, a total of four more transit centres were opened in central and northern Liberia to support this tracing work (Gbargna and Voinjama established in November 1996 at the start of demobilisation, Zwedru in July 1997, and Greenville in January 1998). The mandate of these centres was to offer a safe and secure environment for ex-child soldiers and provide shelter, food, medicine and clothing as they waited for their families to be traced.
Of the 4300 children demobilised, 700 opted to pass through the transit centre process between 1996 and the end of 1998. The number of boys at the original Virginia Transit Centre increased dramatically between November 1996 and February 1997 as a result of the country-wide demobilisation of fighters. Child fighters demobilised in the capital Monrovia, or whose families were believed to still be in Monrovia were sent to Virginia from the other sites.
The process of family tracing proved more complex than originally anticipated. Over half the children knew the whereabouts of their family and were successfully reunited within a month. For the others, tracing their family was complicated by the length of separation and displacement and could take over 6 months. However, by the end of 1995 over 90% of the child soldiers from the centres were successfully reunited with their family11.
Creating links between former child soldiers and community children
The participation of community children in education activities happened spontaneously in the Virginia centre. Extending educational activities to community children has now been prioritized in all subsequent transit centres to encourage:
· equity in access to services
· links between child soldiers and their civilian counterparts
· links between the centres and the wider community in which they are located.
This emphasis on inclusion has proved critical for effective reconciliation and rehabilitation of former soldiers to civilian life. While child soldiers do have very specific needs, not least the right to catch up developmentally and educationally, it is important to recognize that community and displaced children are in a similar situation and not to be seen to reward those who were active combatants.
Box 2: The Virginia Boys
In June 1996, 22 ex- fighters aged between 10 and 17 were found at the site of an old school for the blind in Virginia, close to Monrovia. These boys had been looked after by the Children's Assistance Programme (CAP), a local agency responsible for assisting former child combatants, until CAP's resources had dried up.
When Save the Children staff first discovered the boys, they were living in unsanitary conditions and organising themselves according to the hierarchical military structure to which they had adapted during the war. Most were armed with knives and homemade weapons and demonstrated aggressive and violent behaviour. Their relationship with the local community was strained, particularly as the boys had resorted to stealing crops and animals to survive, prompting the community to arm themselves against the former soldiers. Occasionally the tension between the children and the local community would erupt into violence.
Joseph Kpukuyu, a local Save the Children social worker, attempted to build up a rapport with the boys and gradually reconcile them with the local community. Provision of food paved the way to developing trust and relations. To counteract the feelings of depression, confusion and lack of purpose felt by the boys, Joseph began allocating them small tasks, as he put it, to put some structure into these boys' lives. Play and sport became a principal part of the boys' day, to both allow them to let off steam and motivate them to achieve as a team on an equal footing.
Joseph and his colleagues continued to build up closer relationships with the boys and encouraged productive activities to help them overcome their feelings of aggression and apathy. As a result, the boys' self-confidence gradually improved and they became less violent towards each other. Together with Save the Children staff, the boys soon began establishing basic ground rules about their behaviour and their responsibilities towards their living conditions. Punishment for breaking established rules was swift, and boys who misbehaved were given strict chores to carry out. This overall approach, aimed at instilling a sense of self-worth coupled with individual responsibility, became known as the tough love approach.
Joseph began to work at providing the boys with an opportunity to explore their own potential. As one member of staff described:
At the very beginning it was about people who had concentration spans of 3 minutes. The first three weeks were just singing and hand-clapping, gardening, woodwork and very little structure. Basically, full time entertainment of those kids and engaging them in a process of learning that was fun, but also catering to the fact that they couldn't stay still. The first education in Virginia was in the open, kids would walk up and stay for half an hour, then wander off. We had to make it interesting through lots of competition and so on. Then at one point in woodwork the children made chairs that they could sit on in classes - this had a real psychological effect: having a little stool to sit on that they had made themselves'
Family tracing can be a lengthy process. Staff at the centre constantly talked with the children about what they might expect on their return home and aimed to reflect the community environment as much as possible to prepare the children for a smoother transition to civil society. As part of this approach, each member of staff acted as a surrogate parent to a small group of 6-8 children. The children and staff came together in these small family-style units for a few hours weekly to talk, discuss any problems in the groups and support one another.
When the first centre opened, staff observed that ex-child soldiers seemed to like being with babies and younger children; they appeared to enjoy having someone to look after. This meant that they would often look after children from families in the displaced camps and the local community, and bring them into the centre. The relationships which developed between the ex-combatant children and other local children provided the local community with useful exposure to the activities of the centre and the kind of education being provided.
Over time, an increasing number of both boys and girls from the neighbouring displaced camps and local communities began to attend the education classes held at the centre. There are several likely reasons for this. Firstly, like the ex-combatants, they had missed out on education during the years of conflict and the catch up approach seemed to respond to their educational needs. Also, even where returning to school was not practically impossible for older children, the prospect sitting in classes with much younger children was a real disincentive. The curriculum developed at the centres was sensitive to this fact, and allowed children of broadly similar ages and education levels to work together. In addition, many of the children who attended the classes had no other possibility of going to school. The displaced camps lacked basic services, including schools, while few families could afford to send their children to school in the local community.
The activities pioneered in Virginia were subsequently replicated in all centres and the approach adapted to involve community children from the outset. Staff were responsible for deciding when and how to bring local children into the programme. All were conscious of the need to a) avoid setting up a parallel system and attracting community children away from local schools b) prepare both community and ex-child, whenever possible, to be reintegrated into the formal programme. Because demand for education significantly out-stripped supply, the transit centres tended to attract those children who were currently out of schools. In cases where community children had recently dropped out of local schools, staff would generally assess the reasons for this before accepting them into the classes.
The involvement of community children also brought the ex-soldiers, all boys in the case of the Save the Children centres, into contact with girls in a natural setting - of the community children, nearly half were girls, reflecting the particular needs of girls in the community for educational support.
Analyses of educational performance in two centres revealed that the educational levels of both ex-child soldiers and community children were well-matched, and that mixed classes were an effective mechanism for re-establishing links between ex-combatant youths and the wider community by breaking down the barriers of fear and suspicion, and promoting mutual understanding 12.
i For the sake of brevity, the term 'community children' will be used to describe children outside transit centres, either from displaced camps or from the local communities.
Box 3: How catch up education can benefit former child soldiers
Levi Morgan is 18 years old. He fought for the Liberia Peace Council (LPC). Levi was 10 years old in 1990, a 1st grade student. In 1997, he was bought to the Zwendru Centre to await tracing and reunification. He enrolled in the literacy classes at the centre.
In late 1997 he completed the advanced classes. The teachers recommended that Levi enrol in a community school to continue his education.
Levi now attends the J. C. Borlee Elementary in Zwendru Grand County. He is in the 6th grade and performs well in all his lessons.
In about one year Levi was able to catch up and perform on par with the other children in his class who did not participate in the conflict as combatants.
As a short-term incentive to encourage achievement and enable ex-soldiers who performed well in the catch up programme to continue their education after family reunification, Save the Children extended school fee support to ex-child soldiers. This support was based on vulnerability assessments made by family tracing staff which identified families too poor to send their children to government schools - in the 1997/98 school year, 16 reunified children received funding.
The successful reunification of ex-combatants with their families led to a gradual shift in the ratio of ex-child soldiers to community children. At the beginning the latter outnumbered the former while by August 1998, community children enrolment exceeded ex child soldiers enrolment at a ratio of 4 to 1.
The growing involvement of community children in the transit centre catch up education programme gave rise to new concerns. Although the programme was primarily designed for 14 to 18 year olds, children as young as ten were attending the classes, and children as young as five had to be turned away. Further concerns were that the children attending Save the Children classes may not be among the poorest or most vulnerable in the community, and the risk of growing dependency by the community on what was intended as a short-term measure.
The high demand for catch up education confirms the need for relevant and free education and the limitations of state provision in the post-war period. It also raises the wider issues of sustainability and the dearth of resources at all levels (family, community, government), which is impeding effective development of the education sector.
Box 4: Children Attending the Catch-up Education Programme
In summary, the ex-child soldiers and community children attending the catch up programme fell into one of three categories:
· Over-age children with some prior education. Some of these may transfer to formal education, however, those who are older are unlikely to continue formal education as they experience the pressures (principally economic) of adulthood.
· Younger children who learn basic literacy/upgrade their levels and re-integrated into the formal system at the correct age. These children are the most likely to continue with formal education.
Making the Curriculum More Relevant
The programme has been modified on an ongoing basis to suit children's particular needs. After the first seven months, it became clear that the education curriculum should be redesigned. This was due in part to the increased involvement of community children, as well as to the growing number of longer staying ex child soldiers. Liberia's national curriculum, intended for use in a formal education system covering many years, was too broad, traditional and irrelevant for the ex child soldiers. Although eager to learn, the curriculum was neither adapted to the low attention spans of ex-combatants, nor to their interests and experience. Further constraints to its application included the range of abilities and interests of ex fighters. Those under 15 years of age generally wanted to catch up from where they left off when the war broke out, while the older boys were interested in learning vocational skills.
To address these problems, Save the Children recognised the need to move into catch up education provision. It was at this point that collaboration with the Ministry of Education started, to look at ways of complementing their process of developing an 'Enrichment Curriculum'. This enrichment curriculum was designed to meet the accelerated learning needs of both ex child soldiers and other children who had missed out on education to facilitate their integration to the formal system, thus dovetailing closely with the approach developed at the transit centres.
The curriculum at the transit centres evolved progressively to meet the changing needs of the children. Initially a revised curriculum of six weeks was developed, fitting the average stay of children at the transit centres. This was followed by two successive phases of curriculum development, offering an education relevant to the children's particular needs and, where possible, preparing them to slot into the formal education system. The Beginners level offered basic literacy training (up to primary grade 3) for older children. The Advanced level provided more intensive instruction for those children who had already reached a higher level of education (3rd grade of primary), offering lessons in maths, science, social studies, literature and arts. Subsequently, it became clear that a fuller and longer curriculum would be required. Workshops were conducted at all the centres, resulting in a new six month curriculum on a modular design. This revised curriculum again fitted the circumstances of the children in the centres, mainly community children or former soldiers whose families were hardest to trace. It compressed the six year primary curriculum into two six month cycles, and so provided a coherent package of catch up education, with literacy at its core.
The six month curriculum was developed to complement the national accelerated learning curriculum and has been officially approved by the Division of Curriculum. The pilot nature of the experience has been especially useful in the Liberian context of reconstruction, offering practical lessons to inform thinking about curriculum design.
Introducing More Appropriate Teaching Methods
Appropriate teaching methods were crucial to the success of the programme. A total of 11 three day training and refresher workshops were conducted over a one year period. Topics discussed at the workshops included classroom management, lesson planning, instructional methods, and active learning approaches. The teachers were encouraged to blend a comfortable atmosphere conducive to learning with activity-based lessons. Activities such as drama, role playing, singing and field trips were added to encourage collective and individual participation. Teachers were regularly consulted about their work and the appropriateness of the curricula. In general, teachers found the six month curriculum easy to teach, although its effectiveness was limited by a lack of supporting materials, a challenge facing all levels of education in Liberia.
Links with the Formal Education System
The rationale behind the development of a catch up education programme was to offer children the chance of a basic education as well as allow children to move back into formal education at the right class for their age group. In order to achieve these goals it was essential that the catch up curriculum was complementary to the government curriculum, and recognised by the Ministry of Education. In this way, the catch up course provides children with an education which is nationally recognized, even where they are unable to continue schooling in the formal sector.
Parallel Vocational Activities
Skills training in areas such as carpentry and agriculture ran in parallel to the catch up education programme. Many of the older children, aged 15 or over, were only taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic, as they were more interested in learning practical vocational skills which they could use to support themselves in the future. In some cases apprenticeships were offered on a case by case basis to some of the older children of 17 and 18 years of age who were keen to learn a trade. Formal links to the employment sector were beyond the scope of the transit centre programme, however, and apprenticeships with local carpenters, mechanics, tailors, and blacksmith normally took place when children were back with their families and communities.
The need for consistent monitoring and appropriate development of vocational skills training was recognised by staff working in transit centres.
What has been learnt?
The Liberia case study demonstrates the value of educational programmes in post-conflict situations, both in improving the life opportunities of children affected by war and in supporting the process of reconciliation at the community level. The experience in Liberia also underlines that, paradoxically, the most challenging situations can sometimes present opportunities for innovation. Although we have explored here an approach designed to meet the needs of a very specific group - former child soldiers - it also offers lessons about ways of working that are of wider relevance.
Innovation, flexibility and responsiveness have been the key factors contributing to the success of this programme. A culture of responsiveness was established from the outset, building up communication with ex child soldiers in Virginia in order to identify their needs and seek ways of meeting those needs. Had the programme relied on a carefully structured plan in the early stages, it might not have been possible to introduce the small-scale, innovative approaches which were tested and adapted over time, including the catch-up education programme and the inclusion of boys and girls from the local community in educational and recreational activities.
An integrated approach, combining provision of shelter and food with a daily structure and constructive activities, has created an environment in which ex-combatant children have been able to re-establish trusting relationships and develop self-confidence and positive relationships in society. The lessons and activities were adapted in response to the changing situation of the children, evolving from recreational/constructive play activities, through literacy and basic education provision, to a catch up education programme which would serve the needs of ex child soldiers in the transit centres and the growing numbers of children coming in to the centres from the surrounding communities.
The role of education in post-conflict rehabilitation and reconciliation
As in other case examples from Lebanon and Mozambique, Save the Children's experience in Liberia illustrates the role of education in recovery after conflict for individual children and their communities.
School activities were intended to develop the former child soldiers' abilities to express themselves, to co-operate with one another and to socialise. They also sought to rebuild children's self-esteem through developing new skills and recognising their achievements. Learning practical skills, literacy and numeracy opened up the possibility for the children to take on new roles in civilian life. Activities in school also brought together the former soldiers with other children from the local community, enabling them to learn about each other's needs and to begin to work together to solve their problems.
Because of the responsive nature of the programme, it was possible to take advantage of opportunities that arose. As the programme in the transit centres developed, children from the outside community began to come into the centre to take advantage of the educational activities taking place there. This gave an opportunity for ex child combatants to mix with the local community, breaking down the barriers of fear and suspicion, and building up relationships of trust.
The extreme situation required urgent, flexible and creative responses. Children needed an effective education that responded to their immediate needs (e.g. dealing with their aggression and the trauma they had experienced) and to their long term needs (developing basic skills needed to secure opportunities in the future). International and local staff had to start from where the children were: this required child-centred approaches that were locally adapted.
This case study demonstrates the problems and contradictions of targetting programmes at an identified, vulnerable group. The original aim of the programme was to target ex-child soldiers, in the context of demobilisation; the subsequent inclusion of community children had not been planned, but was encouraged by the project initiators in the interests of reconciliation and reintegration.
In this situation, Save the Children faced a dilemma: how could they respond to the needs of ex child soldiers, in the interests both of their individual rights and of wider social stability, without being seen to reward those responsible for the atrocities of war? The enthusiasm of community children to join the programme reflected that they, as well as the ex child soldiers, were in desparate need of basic and catch up educational opportunities which were either unavailable or unaccessible through the formal school sector. In fact, it can be argued that had these children not been included, the existence of educational facilities for ex child soldiers in the centres might have further damaged relations between these young people and the wider community by building up resentment and envy.
With this dilemma in mind, it is also important to note that in this case, as in many others, donor funding was available specifically for the rehabilitation of child soldiers, and the inclusion of children from the wider community presented a potential problem in terms of accountability to the donors.
From the outset, the focus of the programme was on short-term interventions with demobilised youth, and sustainability was seen in terms of the long-term benefits of reintegration of ex child soldiers into the community and reunification with their families.13 Financial sustainability only became an issue as catch up education and the involvement of community children gained in importance within the overall programme.
The child-focused methods that were developed were both innovative and effective: they provided an opportunity to influence the curriculum and practice in the state sector. Save the Children looked at ways of working with the Ministry of Education to achieve this, but this was not seen as priority. This was largely because of the need to maintain neutrality and the chaotic state of the official education system: there were few structures within which to work. However, the catch-up curriculum was shared with and taken forward by other agencies working in Liberia. Additionally, the child-focused approaches developed in the programme will be used by practitioners in their future work.
· A flexible and responsive intervention in one area (reunifying ex-fighters with their families) led to innovations in others. The result here was a new way of responding to the educational needs of demobilised child soldiers and ultimately of reintegrating them into society.
· The extreme situation of ex-child soldiers demonstrated particularly stark examples of the universal need for education to be responsive to children's background and needs. For example, a traditional approach to education would have no way to cope with children whose attention span is 3 minutes.
· Significant similarities in educational problems faced both ex-soldiers and civilian children - such as displacement, trauma, collapse of the school system. This made possible an integrated approach to educating ex-fighters alongside children from the community, which in turn helped the re-integration process.
· The catch-up approach to education responded well to the needs of displaced non-combattant children, particularly where their only other option would be sitting in class with much younger children. However, little attention was paid to the problems that this created: local children came to depend on a school that had only been intended to run short-term.
· There was always a tension between maintaining neutrality (and hence limiting partnership with the government) and seeking to ensure complementarity between catch-up education and the formal education system.
· The experience of providing catch-up education enabled Save the Children later to work in partnership with the Ministry of Education, to develop an Enrichment Curriculum to bridge the gap experienced by all children who had missed out on classes through war.
· Successes remain vulnerable to further conflict.
1 Save the Children 1999. 'Liberia Emergency Update Five'. Internal report, Save the Children
2 See also for example Selleck, P, 1998. Impact of Conflict on Children in Afghanistan. Save the Children Alliance & UNICEF, Afghanistan
3 Colenso, P, 1998. 'Liberia: the role of basic education in rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation in a post-conflict situation'. Internal report, Save the Children, Liberia
4 Save the Children 1999
5 Schembri, G, 1997. 'Liberia's ex child Fighters - a narrative account of the work of Save the Children in Liberia'. Internal report, Save the Children
6 UNICEF 1999. State of the World's Children. London
7 Allen, R., Colenso, P, 1998. 'Review of the educational component of Save the Children programme with ex-child combatants in Liberia'. Internal report, Save the Children
8 Schembri 1997
9 Allen and Colenso 1998
10 Schembri 1997
11 Allen and Colenso 1998; also for examples in boxes 3 and 4
12 Allen, R, undated. 'A news organ developed with the centre children'. Internal report. Save the Children, Liberia
13 Even in this respect it is difficult to be sure how long term are the effects. In early 1999 when the war had broken out again, one of the ex-patriate researchers for this case study was caught up in fighting and taken hostage by a group of militia. Among them was one of the young men who had been at Virginia camp at the time of the programme review on which this case study is based. When asked why he had returned to a life of violence, he responded simply that 'I am accepted here.