Of the 50,000 people who fled their homes after violence erupted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, nearly half are children.
An Ethiopian girl sings to her classmates, who are huddled together on a straw mat on the sandy ground of a refugee camp in neighbouring Sudan.
Shielded from the hot mid-afternoon sun in a makeshift classroom built from wood and straw, the children sing back in unison.
When they finish, they laugh as they break out into noisy applause, with nods of approval from their teacher, Bereket Weldgebriel.
“Education is the light of the world,” says Bereket, a 35-year-old English and music teacher.
He and the children in his class are among the almost 50,000 people who fled their homes after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government launched a military operation against the forces in the northern Tigray region on November 4.
They have found shelter in a string of camps along the Sudanese border, where they live in tents and straw huts.
According to the United Nations, 45 percent of the refugees are children.
“When I came here, my heart was broken,” says Bereket, a graduate of the Academy of Music of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa who used to run an English-language academy and teach at a public school in the Tigrayan town of Humera.
Now, he and his colleagues at the temporary Um Rakuba school have found meaning to their new lives.
“If we teach these children, they will be happy,” says Bereket. “If children have an education, they can solve their problems.”
Teklebrham Giday, 32, who was also a school teacher in Humera, is the head teacher at Um Rakuba School Site One.
He says there are several other makeshift schools in the camps, and that his school has registered 722 students so far, from grades one through 10.
With five makeshift classrooms to shield the children from the elements, he and his team offer a basic education to the students according to their grade.
“We teach basic subjects: English, our national language Amharic, basic sciences and, for recreation, … sports, music and arts,” says the head teacher, adding that the children also study Tigrinya, the language of Tigray.
“We simply omitted all the subjects dealing with politics,” he says. “Many people were killed in Tigray due to politics.”
Among the children attending classes at the temporary school is Emmanuel Thagakiros, a 10-year-old boy wearing a green T-shirt and shorts.
He says his favourite subject is maths. “I want to learn so I can be happy and get a job to help my parents,” he adds shyly.
His 36-year-old mother, Askwal Hagos, says Emmanuel has had frequent nightmares since they fled their home three weeks ago.
“Even now, he panics. At night, he panics when he dreams about the dead bodies he saw,” says Askwal, who has two other children.
When her son is getting ready to go to school in the morning, she tells him: “Here nobody will kill you. Nobody will hurt you.”