|Refugee children use UNICEF school supplies|
By Maya Dollarhide
KOUNOUNGO REFUGEE CAMP/NEW YORK, 30 July 2004 – In the Kounoungo refugee camp in Eastern Chad, Darfurian children are eagerly attending school, after months of witnessing extreme violence, death and chaos in their homeland. Teachers and schools remind the children of their lives before the Janjaweed drove them from their villages, forcing 1.2 million Darfurians into the hostile desert lands.
There are 10,000 people living in the Kounoungo refugee camp. Over 75 per cent are women and children. Temporary schools can provide the children with a sense of stability in the overcrowded camps.
“Schools in a situation like this provide a sense of normalcy for children and also an element of protection. It allows children to resume the routine they had before the conflict broke out, before the violence, before they were forced to flee,” said Sheldon Yett, a UNICEF project officer with the Humanitarian Response Unit in New York.
Mr. Yett has just returned from visiting Darfur and eastern Chad.
“In the camps in eastern Chad there are some 200,000 people stretched over a 600 kilometre belt of sand and mud. It’s one of the most inhospitable conditions one can imagine,” said Mr. Yett.
“It’s extremely hot…it’s raining, when it’s not raining, it’s flooded. It’s a situation where diseases are endemic, where there is great risk of outbreaks of cholera and where refugees have very little shelter. The situation is getting better, but the needs remain enormous,” he added.
|Girls attend outdoor classes in Kounougo refugee camp in eastern Chad|
In response to the crisis, UNICEF and its partners are providing much-needed support to the refugee and displaced people’s camps in both Darfur and eastern Chad.
UNICEF’s work in the area includes supporting a number of nutritional feeding centres in eastern Chad, providing a supply of therapeutic milk, and furnishing mosquito nets to protect families from malaria.
Furthermore, a major vaccination campaign to immunize children against measles and polio and to provide them with essential vitamin supplements has also begun. As sanitary conditions are extremely poor in camps where tens of thousands are living in close quarters, UNICEF is also working with its partners to construct water-treatment plants, and is training hygiene education teams in the refugee camps.
Support for children’s education in the camps is also a key UNICEF priority. UNICEF and its partners have built temporary classrooms and provided school-in-a-box kits to camps across Darfur and eastern Chad, so that children will have access to education, despite the dire living conditions.
For children in the camps, the location of their classrooms doesn’t matter. Clutching notebooks and pencils, they gather inside makeshift shelters, or simply outdoors, to attend school. Darfurian children are living under extremely difficult conditions, but school supplies and a kind teacher may bring some hope and happiness to a place where both things are sorely needed.