Back to school in Georgia, with new textbooks and footballs
By Dorn Townsend
Tbilisi, September 20, 2008
The war in Georgia may be over but the children of displaced families still face disruptions and obstacles to attending schools.
“This summer is going on and on,” said Gigo Ninidze, a 12 year old boy living in a displaced persons camp in the city of Gori. “Before but this year I never thought I’d look forward to school but now I can’t wait to get back to be with all my friends. Every normal kid wants to study.”
For many displaced children, the summer has dragged on because the date when school starts has been pushed back. That’s because until they were resettled in other temporary shelters displaced families occupied nearly 70 percent of the schools in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and in Gori, the city near to where much fighting occurred. Georgia’s Ministry of Education has committed to finding places for all students by October 1.
Behind the scenes, Unicef has been a catalyst in this process.
“We’ve been working with the government and partners in the education sector to get everyone working together to get children back to school as fast as possible,” said Giovanna Barberis, Unicef’s Country Director for Georgia. “This approach has helped to galvanize civil society into re-emphasizing the rights of children.”
Unicef has been contributing to the material needs of schools as well as the emotional needs of children.
Because the families of many displaced children may not be able to afford school supplies, recently a textbook drive was held throughout the capital. Drop-off bins were put in local banks and TV ads ran on national television. After one week, nearly 10,000 new and used books were donated.
Unicef has also been distributing other school and recreational supplies like footballs and notebooks and volleyballs. Quantities of these goods reached tens of thousands of school-children. Before the academic year began, Unicef assisted in survey of school conditions and provided material to repair and clean damaged schools.
At it’s chore, Unicef believes one of the best ways to move beyond the recent chaos and violence is for children to return to normal routines like school. But for a minority of students, traumatic memories can linger.
For this reason Unicef has been stepping up its trainings for public school teachers. Since September, nearly 300 teachers have attended specially conceived trainings put together to teach methods for recognizing trauma and counseling students.