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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Children go back to school in tsunami-affected countries

© UNICEF Thailand/2005/Nettleton
Thai children go to school in an army truck

NEW YORK, 1 February 2005 – Many Thai schoolchildren are back at their desks one month after December’s devastating tsunami, but attendance is still low.

UNICEF’s Thailand office estimates that fewer than 50 schools were hit by the tsunami, and only 12 of them seriously damaged. Only about half of the students returned to school on schedule in the first week of 2005 and while more have gone back since then, the attendance rate is still only at 75 percent.

UNICEF is making children’s education a priority in the wake of the disaster and is working with authorities in all tsunami-affected countries to make sure children have the material resources and psychological support they need to get their lives back to normal. In Thailand, some 100 teachers have been trained to provide support for distressed students.

“Schools are the second most important institution for these children after their own family. Teachers are like second parents to them,” said Programme Coordinator for UNICEF Thailand Andrew Morris. “It’s vitally important that all these children go back to school, back to an environment with which they are very familiar.”

Going to school is difficult for many

Many children have been too afraid to go to school. Going to school means leaving their families and, in many cases, going nearer to the ocean which destroyed their homes and took friends and loved ones.

Government officials and UNICEF are helping to monitor attendance and get help for children who are suffering from trauma. Teachers have been given basic orientation to help children with distress and other problems.  UNICEF has provided 300 tents to replace damaged schools, 1,500 ‘school-in-a box’ kits along with uniforms and sports equipment. In some instances the Thai military is helping get children to school from the temporary camps.

In the devastated fishing village of Ban Nam Kem, teachers could at first hardly round up enough students to hold a class. About a quarter of the school’s 400 students are dead or missing. Teachers say almost another quarter of the students are staying home.

Ten-year-old Sirirat Sooksri is one of nearly 200 students who have returned to the school. She says she wanted to get back to class so she won’t forget what she has learned. But seeing so many empty seats upsets her.

“I wonder why my friends didn’t come to school,” says Sirirat. “How many are missing, and how many are left in class? Why there are so few students here?”

The situation throughout the region

It’s a question that’s repeated throughout the tsunami-affected region. In India, UNICEF is working with education officials in the affected areas and identifying the requirements for restoring education facilities and giving counselling and support to traumatized children. Where some schools have been turned into relief camps, efforts are being made to ensure there is at least one room cleared so that children can study. To make sure children’s lives return to normal as quickly as possible, many children are receiving sports equipment as well as ‘school-in-a-box’ kits.

The island of Sumatra, worst hit by the disaster, has received 2,000 UNICEF ‘school-in-a-box’ kits along with teaching resources and recreational equipment. UNICEF has recruited and trained 2,000 new teachers.

Malaysian schools re-opened on time on 4 January. UNICEF provided emergency educational supplies as well as assisting the government of Malaysia to respond to the needs of traumatized children.

In the Maldives, UNICEF is working with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to help the country’s education system recover as well as providing books, recreational kits and ‘school-in-a-box’ kits.

In Sri Lanka schools re-opened on 25 January but attendance is below 50 percent. UNICEF has provided all of the school kits and text books and uniforms. To date, UNICEF has provided ‘school-in-a-box’ kits containing basic school supplies for 434,480 children.

Education is just one sphere of UNICEF’s commitment to ongoing relief in the tsunami-affected region. Every affected country is receiving help to restore housing and water systems and to ensure that children are protected from disease and exploitation.

The tsunami ranks among the worst natural disasters ever. Your generous donation helps UNICEF to restore hope and a semblance of normalcy for hundreds of thousands of survivors.



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