I am driving out to Ali Addeh refugee camp as part of the 2016 Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) teacher study tour in the Republic of Djibouti, located in the north-east of Africa.
The landscape is unlike anything I have ever seen; like something that could be used to depict a distant planet in a Star Wars movie. There are rocks everywhere – black, red and sandy colours that form the hills and mountains surrounding us.
You can see in his face how IMPORTANT it is to him that the children have a FUTURE.
Our group crosses dry riverbeds that look like they have not held flowing water for years and, as the wind picks up, dust is blown everywhere. But every now and then there are bursts of life, as trees and small shrubs appear showing hope in what otherwise appears to be a desolate landscape. Ali Addeh refugee camp is located in this barren setting, but after spending a day there I realise it is full of life.
We meet the school council and teachers. They are passionate about making sure the camp’s children get the best education possible. They welcome us with handshakes all round; treating us like family rather than visitors.
The child protection officer explains his role with a degree of animation I have not seen in a long time. He loves his job of making sure the children in the camp are protected. You can see in his face how important it is to him that the children have a future, are safe, and understand their rights.
We park the 4WD on the dirt soccer field and basketball court of the camp. As soon as the gates open, inquisitive children come from everywhere wanting to say hello, shake hands and play games, even though we cannot stay long.
It is no different at Hol Hol refugee camp, as I start my first day of team teaching with Hindi and Andrious. Hindi has been a teacher at Hol Hol for the past five years.
As we discuss what we will be teaching, his face lights up as he stresses the importance of teaching the children so they can have opportunities in the future.
Hindi and Andrious are keen to learn the different methods I use to teach students in Australia, but somehow I feel I am learning more from them.
I have the privilege of teaching Year 4 social science and maths with my colleagues from Lutheran World Federation. As the students walk into the classroom, there is apprehension on their faces as they see a white stranger … but it does not take long before they are putting up their hands, asking: ‘Teacher, teacher, can you come and check this?’
As I work with the students I see their keenness to learn. ‘Teacher, teacher – give me another problem to solve.’ ‘Teacher, teacher, did I get this right?’
They are like sponges trying to soak in as much as they can.
I get back to our guesthouse in Al Sabieh and have a chat to James, the Lutheran World Federation program manager for Djibouti. It is inspirational to see his commitment to ensuring that the education and child protection programs in the camps are top quality. James has a real calling for what he does. It is obvious that every refugee he meets is a valuable person to him.
There is no doubt that the refugee camps of Djibouti are located in dry, desolate and barren places. But my experience over a four-day visit shows that there is plenty of life and hope.
Andrew Weiss is a teacher at Cornerstone College, Mt Barker SA. He was one of nine teachers from Australian Lutheran schools who went on the two-week ALWS teacher study tour to Djibouti. The teachers funded their own travel.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran August 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.