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Responding to educational needs in a violent crisis

When gang violence sent some 150,000 people into internally displaced persons camps in Timor-Leste in May 2006, schools closed down and offices were abandoned. A week later the Ministry of Education was operating at approximately 30 per cent of its capacity. Senior staff talked of their fear in walking down their neighbourhood streets. In this situation, the Ministry formed an Education Working Group and UNICEF became a key member in the effort to pull together a coordinated response. The Regional Education Office sent two project officers – for Education and Child Protection – to work with their country counterparts toward using education as a way to create safe spaces for children. This included provisions for recreational and other informal educational activities that could help children deal with the effects of the crisis and help to create a sense of normalcy for both children and communities.

Integrating educational activities into the immediate emergency response is regarded as critical for protecting young children and an important way to promote tolerance and conflict resolution. In Timor-Leste, child protection and education officers worked hand-in-hand at both the regional and country levels.

“This collaboration is needed in the earliest stage of any emergency situation,” emphasizes Gary Ovington, the Regional Project Officer for Education. He and the Country Education Officer also developed a rapid assessment questionnaire, sought feedback from the Ministry and Education Working Group and then proceeded to conduct surveys in 34 IDP camps with four other UNICEF national officers.

One of the clear findings was that there is no single appropriate response for education activities in all camps. The next step was to develop a plan for providing education in a situation of uncertainty and instability. UNICEF provided Schools-in-a-Box and Recreational Kits and identified that in the medium- to longer-term, there is an urgent need for Peace Education and Conflict Resolution activities.





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