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World Refugee Day

Since the military coup in Mali three months ago, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes by armed conflict in the North of the country. Escalating firefights forced entire communities to flee to neighbouring Mauritania. Now, more than 65,000 Malian refugees are living in M’bera, a displaced persons camp in south-east Mauritania.

The mounting violence overlaps with a nutrition crisis currently gripping the Sahel region of Africa, which has severely affected both Mali and Mauritania. UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure a rapid and coordinated response to both these emergencies, aiming to bastion community resilience while preventing further deterioration of the situation.

In particular, UNICEF is focusing on the establishment of schools in an effort to restore a degree of normalcy, routine and security to the lives of refugee children living in M’bera. Ten school tents have opened, enabling more than 3,000 primary school-aged children to   © UNICEF 2012/Mauritania               continue their education despite the recent upheavals in their lives.

Through these efforts, the crisis has unearthed an unexpected opportunity—many of the camp’s children have never been to school before.

Mahmoud is one such child. Having lived his whole life in a nomadic community with his mother and sisters, he was never in one place long enough to attend school. Considered the man of the family at ten years old, Mahmoud has had to grow up fast.

He adapted very quickly to life in M’bera, assuming the responsibility of collecting water for his family twice a day. He recently waited in line from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. to access the water fountain so his family would have enough for drinking and cooking.

Mahmoud used to be sad that he could not talk about school with other children. Now, thanks to his new school, he finally has the chance to receive an education.

UNICEF is endeavouring to provide M’bera with more school tents and school-in-a-box kits, so that more children like Mahmoud are given a safe environment in which to learn and play, even thousands of miles away from home.

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