|Meena (8), Dinesh (5) and Preeti (3), carry their schoolbags and are eager to return to school. They are from Car Nicobar Island and have just been enrolled in a school close to the tsunami relief camp where they are living.|
PORT BLAIR, India, 7 February 2005 - It is lunch time and the fragrance of cooked food is infusing the air with a sense of expectancy. People seem to have settled into camp life as uncomfortable as it is. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, food, water and sanitation were the primary concerns for survival; education did not figure as a priority. Now it is back at the forefront of parents’ and teachers’ minds.
Before the disaster, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands reported a drop-out rate of 0 per cent at the primary level. “Education has always been a top priority for the Administration,” says Education Secretary Uddipta Ray.
However, 53 of the 208 primary schools, 29 of the 92 senior secondary schools and 18 of the 55 upper primary schools were seriously damaged by the tsunami and as many as 78 teachers are reported to be dead or missing. Nonetheless, parents are eager for their children to get back to school as soon as possible.
In Nayagaon camp in Port Blair, a smiling boy of about five years, appears with a school bag slung on his shoulders and he is followed by a girl also sporting a schoolbag. They are joined by a little child who, in her mother’s arms, also carries a schoolbag. All of them look cheerful. “We are about to go to school,” says the girl, Meena.
|Meena (8), Dinesh (5) like to show off their school bags around the relief camp in Port Blair where they live.|
The boy, Dinesh, is in Class One while the youngest, named Preeti Prabha, goes to “chun mun school” (preparatory school). They are all homeless children from the Nicobar Islands and have been in the camp since the tsunami disaster. After being without schools or books for more than five weeks, they are finally being enrolled in local schools in the Andaman Islands.
On other islands, life has been completely disrupted and schooling is all but nonexistent. UNICEF staff member Dr. Sachin Gupte, stationed at Car Nicobar and Campbell Bay, described the school situation as very grim. “Eight of the 10 schools in Great Nicobar have been completely washed away and there is hardly any schooling taking place in the remote islands,” he said.
However, children and their families will gradually begin returning to their villages and UNICEF is working closely with the Administration to ensure that on their return home, children are able to continue their schooling. UNICEF is supporting a comprehensive education package comprised of material and training support for children and their teachers.
UNICEF will help ensure that there are appropriate schooling facilities by providing high-quality, ventilated tents at camp sites and will also ensure that there is safe water and adequate sanitation facilities in all schools. In addition teachers will be equipped with the necessary tools to respond to children’s need for psycho-social support. UNICEF Andaman and Port Blair Camp Office Co-ordinator, Tejinder Sandhu, says “Getting children back to school will go a long way in restoring normalcy. The rhythm of schooling has that power.”
UNICEF India Representative Cecilio Adorna said the Andaman and Nicobar Administration and UNICEF are working on joint initiatives that capitalize on each other’s strengths. “All school children must return to a normal schooling situation as soon as possible, and UNICEF is working closely with the government to ensure that everything is in place in time for their return home,” he said.
A team of UNICEF experts has been in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands since 2 January and has been working with the Administration on many issues including: ensuring that all children under the age of five in camps are immunized against measles and receive a dose of Vitamin A; securing clean water supplies and the provision of adequate sanitation facilities; and the monitoring of children’s nutritional status.
Welcoming the agreement with UNICEF, Education Secretary Mr. Ray said, “What UNICEF has offered is extremely useful, timely and appropriate.”