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UNICEF education staff look back at a year of challenges and inspiration

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Mulatu
Neima, 13, participates in the Children’s Race at the Addis Ababa Stadium.


NEW YORK, USA, 5 January 2012 – UNICEF education staff around the globe share the most inspiring moments they experienced in 2011, events that that reminded them why they chose their professions. Below is a selection of their stories. More stories can be found here.

Creating equal opportunities

It was overcast and chilly on 26 November, the day of the Children’s Race at the Addis Ababa Stadium, but the stadium was alive with excitement.

The final event of the day was a 200-metre race for girls and boys with disabilities, and the last two runners caught my attention. The second to last was a child in a wheelchair whose teacher was pushing him toward the finish line. The last one was a girl balancing on one leg with the help of a cane. She hopped steadily along, with a caregiver just a few metres away, giving support.

About 20 metres from the finish line, the girl stopped, exhausted and seemingly ready to give up. The crowd wasn’t sure how to react. I shouted, “Go girl, go!” and in my head, I prayed that she would not give up. After hesitating for a few moments, she managed to regain her composure and continue hopping towards the finish line. With the crowd cheering her on, and children clapping and dancing, the girl finished the race.

Afterwards, she told us, “To tell the truth, I was scared at the beginning. I was not completely sure that I could do this… But the crowd gave me moral support. There was clapping and shouting to encourage me to continue and finish the race. It makes me believe that if one tries, disability cannot stop one from accomplishing what he or she wants.”

I was filled with pride that I was part of the UNICEF team that gave these children the opportunity to feel ’ordinary’ and do what other children do.  - Tizie Maphalala, Education Specialist, UNICEF Ethiopia

© UNICEF Swaziland/2011/Brugiolo
Stakeholders attend the National Dialogue on Violence against Children in and around Schools, in Swaziland.

Ending violence against children in schools

When I arrived in Swaziland, violence in schools was one of the main issues discussed among my colleagues. Excessive corporal punishment, sexual violence and harassment on the way to school, and violent teacher-learner relationships made the news almost every day. Everyone felt the need to discuss the problem openly, making sure the voice of children was heard – but how? Then came the idea of a national dialogue to put the issue at the top of the government agenda, and the Ministry of Education and Training was enthusiastic about it.

After a lot of excitement, commotion, hectic preparation, long working weekends and last-minute postponements, the day finally arrived: October 19, the day of the National Dialogue on Violence against Children in and around Schools.

With a hall full of enthusiastic and committed people, as well as children ready to make their voices heard, the Minister gave his speech. “Away with teachers who beat children! Away with teachers who sleep with young students!” he declared.

With that, others felt encouraged, and began shouting that all forms of violence against children are unacceptable and must be stopped. Stakeholders made commitments to stop violence in schools, and we all really felt we were making a difference. It was the product of great teamwork, not just among UNICEF staff, but also with colleagues in the Ministry.

Now the real work starts to make sure those commitments were not made in vain. - Cristina Brugiolo, Education Specialist, UNICEF Swaziland

Reaching the most disadvantaged students

Within weeks of arriving in Suriname, I visited several remote villages deep in the Amazon, where I met committed teachers who themselves had not even completed secondary education. I also spoke to hard-working teachers at the most disadvantaged schools in the capital city, Paramaribo, who talked about how difficult it was to deal with their overcrowded classrooms.

After meeting the teachers, I collaborated with the Ministry of Education on mapping of all the schools in Suriname, placing a special focus on children in the interior.

What happened then is something I never could have imagined: the data we gathered fed directly into a multi-year strategy that had a direct and positive impact on the conditions of teachers in remote and disadvantaged areas.

When I left Suriname this summer to take up my current position in Turkey, it was not the policy, nor the personal farewell e-mail from the Minister that was my professional highlight; it was the handwritten letter from a teacher in one of the villages, thanking me for the first-ever government-supported teacher training. This will always remind me why I have chosen this profession.  - Simone Vis, Education Chief, UNICEF Turkey



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