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Flood-affected children go back to school

© UNICEF Mozambique/James Elder
Seven-year-old Joana Minete is happy now. As a result of UNICEF support she can now go school and have access to school materials.

Sofala province, Mozambique, 06 March 2007 – Until this week, seven-year-old Joana Minete had never been to school. Never owned a book, and never written with a pencil. Today she beams with all three in her life.

This is the bitter-sweet of an emergency which has left 80,000 children homeless, after weeks of heavy rains caused flash floods along the Zambezi river and its tributaries, washing away bridges, livestock, crops and homes. Every one of the 160,000 people affected would like their old life back as quickly as possible, however UNICEF is ensuring that the situation is as constructive as possible for children such as Joana.

Having been forced from her home by flood waters, Joana arrived in Chupanga ‘accommodation centre’ – 80 kilometres from Caia in central Mozambique – a week ago. Twenty-four hours later she was in a classroom for the first time in her life.

Three ample UNICEF tents – that can house hundreds of children – now stand side by side, offering displaced children a sense of stability, and for many a rare chance to experience education.

“I was scared when we had to travel so far from our home,” says Joana, “but then I was here, and they gave me a school bag, and books, and pencils, and I thought ‘I like this very much!’.” With this she dashes back into the tented classroom, farewelling with her dazzling smile.

Joana’s teacher, Phillipe Carvalho, says there are certainly challenges with so many first-time students together, but that “they are so eager to learn that it is a pleasure to teach”.

“Give me just a few months with them and I will have them ready for more formal education,” says Mr Carvalho.

UNICEF is responding to simultaneous emergencies in Mozambique. While floods continued to displace tens of thousands of people, a Cyclone lashed coastal towns, damaging an estimated 220 classrooms and displacing thousands more children from school. In response UNICEF and partners have distributed 25,000 education kits for children, 2,800 kits for teachers and are using 30 tents as temporary learning spaces.

“Our response on the ground has been express and effective,” says the Head of UNICEF in Mozambique, Leila Pakkala. “Its paramount to get children back into school as quickly as possible, and very satisfying when children such as Joana can experience the joys of school for the first time.”

While the rest of the class looks on, Joana is called to the front to solve a problem on Mr Carvalho’s blackboard. It is simple geometry (identifying and drawing shapes), but would have been well beyond her just a few days ago. Today she concentrates, reaches for the chalk, and gets it right.



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