Fatouma: the new student of Garabitsan

A fresh start

Mar 2015, Djibouti - Fatouma’s outlook on life has flipped 180 degrees. Over the past three weeks, she has been waking up with a new objective: sit in a classroom and learn. This 7-year old with big almond-shaped eyes is part of a group of 85 students aged 6 to 11 years old who are attending the first school ever to exist in Garabitsan, a hard-to-reach village in Tadjourah region, Djibouti. And Fatouma is particularly lucky because, of about 200 aged-school children in the community, only 28 girls have enrolled.


Life in an inhospitable place

It is hard to find a map that shows where Garabitsan is. Reaching the village is even harder; after crossing the white landscape of Lac Assal, the road disappears giving way to a rocky terrain that is only passable in a four-wheel drive. Garabitsan village was created some years ago, during a drought that hit the country destroying crops and killing livestock. Having lost their source of livelihoods, hundreds of families left their homelands and walked kilometers through the mountains, trying to escape from hunger, until they were brought together by the army in the mountain of Garabitsan. They set up their toukols (portable huts made of branches and covered with mats) and the World Food Programme, having been alerted by the army, started to provide water and food assistance. With no other options, people stayed, and the village was born.


When education means hope

The community has no access to healthcare or other social services. The nearest shallow well is 4.5 Km away and the water is undrinkable. Since there was no school, UNICEF provided 2 school tents, school kits and benches, as well as incentives to compensate the teacher for living in such a difficult environment.  

Like all her colleagues, Fatouma is enthusiastic about school and she already knows what she wants to be when she grows up: “a teacher”.

“If that is what she wants, I will do my best to support her,” says her father, Ahmed. He is the chief of the village and for him education is the only hope for Garabitsan.

“In our homelands we had camels, goats, we had a life. The drought came and we lost everything. We were forced to move. And we continue having nothing. There is no water, we cannot grow our food.”

As the days pass by, people feel ever more powerless. But they can still look to the future “[Our children] are our hope,” Ahmed says, looking at his daughter. He lets out a big heavy sigh: “If they study they can take us out of this life.”

Fatouma in her local village, where UNICEF has supported the establishment of the first ever local school.