|© UNICEF Myanmar/2008/Stechert|
|Girls at Net Chaung Primary School in Bogalay show off new school bags, which are among 175,000 distributed by UNICEF in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis struck in May.|
By Anna Stechert
BOGALAY, Myanmar, 26 September 2008 – In an area heavily affected by Cyclone Nargis in May, it was a special day at Auk Paing Primary School in Bogalay. All 619 students were to receive new UNICEF backpacks filled with learning materials, including notebooks, pens, pencils, a ruler, a sharpener and an eraser.
These simple tools help to restore the daily rhythm of school and jumpstart the recovery process after a natural disaster.
Together with their parents, the students lined up outside the teacher’s office, waiting their turn. Once the bags were distributed, the proud and smiling students unzipped them, showing the contents to their parents and to each other.
“I am very happy to have this bag,” said Cheery Soe Min, 8, as she removed a box of crayons before playfully kissing it. “My hobby is drawing, and I will draw pictures of fish, busses and apples!”
|© UNICEF Myanmar/2008/Stechert|
|A child at Auk Paing Primary School receives his new UNICEF bag; students at the school have all the materials they need to continue their studies.|
Delivering essential supplies
This UNICEF support is crucial in an area that was already poor before the cyclone hit. Because of the disaster, many families have lost what little they had, including their homes and livelihoods, making it difficult for them to afford school materials for their children.
UNICEF’s support in the cyclone-affected Irrawaddy Delta includes repair of 832 schools and distribution of more than 175,000 essential learning packages to children. The organization has also provided roofing sheets, school furniture, blackboards, ‘School-in-a-Box’ and recreation kits, and box libraries for schools.
“I cannot afford to buy my children these materials,” said Pa-le Oo, a 39-year-old mother, “so I am more than grateful to UNICEF.”
Many needs still unfulfilled
The impact of the cyclone will be felt for years to come. Even before the disaster, the Auk Paing school had been struggling to provide a quality learning environment for its students. The cyclone made this task even more difficult.
There has been no electricity in the school since Cyclone Nargis struck, and its classrooms are dark. The three working toilets are not enough for the large number of students. And the school lacks a sports facility, so when it does not rain, the teachers take their classes outside for some exercise.
During the monsoon season, which lasts six months here, physical education classes are cancelled.
Restoring a sense of normalcy
Auk Paing Principal Daw Nu Yin has seen the strain on his students since May.
“In the first few weeks, kids started crying when a storm was approaching or the wind was blowing,” she said. “Their parents would come and pick them up because they were so scared.”
Teachers, too, were in a constant state of fear, listening to the weather forecast again and again and looking repeatedly out the window, checking for any signs of another disaster.
The principal has been trying to restore some sense of normalcy and structure for her students. “In most families, both parents are working hard to get enough food on the table, and there is just no time for watching the children or studying with them,” she said. And knowing their children are safe in school gives parents and families the time they need to rebuild their lives.
In any community school is central to children’s lives and it is even more critical after a devastating natural disaster. The students now have a place that will provide stability and hope for a better future.
“I am really grateful to UNICEF,” Daw Nu Yin said, grabbing the arm of a local UNICEF field monitor. “It is still very hard, but your support is helping us a lot.”
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