UNICEF focuses on restoring normalcy for young survivors of Cyclone Nargis
GYO PHYU, Myanmar, 12 May 2008 – “We ran to higher ground when the water rose,” explained Kaung Myat, 12, standing on what used to be his family's bamboo hut in Gyo Phyu village, part of Kungyangone township in Myanmar’s southern Yangon Division.
Having lost all family possessions when Cylone Nargis hit the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta just over a week ago, the boy was at a loss to describe his life now. Fortunately, he and his brother, Aung Myint Myat, 8, already have a new place to live. Their big concern is when school will start, so that they can resume some semblance of a normal routine.
It’s a concern that UNICEF shares. The new school term is set to begin 1 June, but with an estimated 90 per cent of the region’s schools destroyed, the logistical challenges are immense.
A safe environment for children
UNICEF’s global Chief of Education, Cream Wright, said cyclone-affected children should be placed, “as quickly as possible … within safe and secure environments, so that some amount of support can be given for psychosocial damage that these children may have suffered – but also so that the learning process may start again.
“What is important about education is that it’s at the leading edge of restoring a sense of normalcy,” added Dr. Wright. “It does this by putting children in a situation where they are safe. The first priority is not teaching and learning, it’s a safe environment for children.”
UNICEF has building materials pre-positioned and can begin repairs to the less severely damaged schools. Where school buildings have been completely destroyed, it is setting up safe learning spaces.
Information and education
UNICEF hopes to provide wind-up radios as part of the relief package, so that even if children are not able to get full-time teaching, they can at least begin to listen to information.
“This can be a very powerful tool both for information and education,” said Dr. Wright. “Starting with play and moving onto formal lessons, you can even re-start schools whilst we’re trying to create safe spaces, and parents can have the feeling that something is returning to normal for their children.”
‘Schools in a backpack’
The school that Kaung and Aung attend is one of the estimated 3,000 schools in Myanmar that have been badly damaged by the cyclone and subsequent flooding. The education of an estimated 500,000 children has been disrupted.
In response, UNICEF Myanmar has ordered large quantities of ‘schools in a backpack’ – a more mobile version of the standard ‘School in a Box’ kit – which provides basic learning and play equipment and has been used successfully in previous emergencies.
UNICEF continues to ship emergency supplies for Myanmar – including emergency health kits, intravenous glucose, masks and gloves – from its main warehouse in Copenhagen. At the same time, UNICEF is flying in family water kits from Dubai, while staff in Bangkok are preparing the ‘schools in a backpack’ that will help children resume their education as soon as possible. The Government of Myanmar and the Myanmar Red Cross will distribute the supplies with the support of UNICEF staff.
Myanmar Cyclone Crisis 2008