|Ten-year-old Luize was taken hostage, but survived. She returns to the scene, where she meets UNICEF Representative in Russia Carel de Rooy (second from left). The bottles of water are symbolic of the thirst the children suffered during captivity.|
NEW YORK, 15 September 2004 - Children in the Russian town of Beslan are being allowed to return to school today – two weeks after terrorists took more than a thousand people hostage on the first day of classes.
They were held captive in Middle School No. 1 for three days with almost no food or water. At least 338 were killed – half of them children – and 700 injured when a bomb was detonated, causing the gymnasium roof to collapse and sparking a firefight.
Although other schools in the town have re-opened, the majority of children directly involved in the three-day siege are too shocked and upset to attend classes. Some are being kept at home because their parents are frightened to send them to school.
“Sixty to 70 per cent of the children have no desire to go school, which is quite understandable given the horrendous situation they went through,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Russia Carel de Rooy. “There is a lot of trauma to be dealt with before they can go back.”
|A woman cries as she checks the list of children who are still missing in the ruins of the school.|
Mr. de Rooy has previously worked extensively in Latin America helping children deal with the aftermath of conflict and natural disasters. He thinks it will take the Beslan children well over a year to recover enough to function in society again.
“One of the things we always stress in situations like this is the need to get children back to school so they can establish routine and normality. But of course we can’t recommend that here, because the children are scared to death. Our main objective is to get them functioning again, comfortable in school and functioning in their families. Obviously the scars will never go away completely.”
UNICEF has already supplied medical equipment and is now helping to equip schools that will accommodate pupils from Middle School No. 1. This will cost around $500,000. Furniture, blackboards and textbooks are among the items needed.
Mr. de Rooy has visited the devastated school and says he took great inspiration from a 10-year-old girl he saw there. “Luize was one of the lucky ones who escaped uninjured, although her mother is still in hospital. The courage of this child who went back to the scene shows the force of these children.
|12-year-old Daurova Alena is recovering in hospital. A bullet is lodged in her stomach; her father was killed in the attack.|
“I have heard tremendous horror stories, but also stories of strength and bravery. Some of the younger children held hostage were allowed to drink water. When they came back they had their mouths still full and shared the water with their friends.”
UNICEF is supporting mental health experts from other parts of Russia in working with children in Beslan and sharing their knowledge with local counsellors. One organization working in the area is Broken Flower, an NGO which helped children deal with the trauma of the Moscow apartment building bombings in 1999.
As well as supporting immediate counselling, UNICEF hopes to encourage long-term peace and tolerance between children in the strife-torn area of the northern Caucasus.
Next priority for children of Beslan: restore their faith in schooling