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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

A long-term commitment to Sri Lanka’s schoolchildren

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Grusovin
A group of female students at Al-Arham school in Addalaichenai, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

ADDALAICHENAI, Sri Lanka, 22 March 2005 - In Addalaichenai, on Sri Lanka’s east coast – hit hard by the 26 December tsunami - 10-year-old Aboosalih is a Grade 5 student at the Al-Arham School.  “I didn’t want to sit at home while other children were going to school. I wanted to go back because education is important. It can help me lead a good life,” she says.

Aboosalih only returned to school about two weeks ago, more than two months after the tsunami. The youngest of five children, her father was killed when the giant waves struck. Aboosalih and the rest of her family were forced to leave what was left of their home and find temporary accommodation.
Like many of her classmates, Aboosalih lost everything in the tsunami and is very happy to have the bag, books and school uniform she received from UNICEF.
A massive logistical operation

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Grusovin
A young female student from Addalaichenai.

Al-Arham is just one of 182 schools that were either destroyed or severely damaged by the tsunami. It is now operating from a series of temporary structures on private land, some distance inland from its former location. The fact that 310 of its 340 students are back in class – albeit under tarpaulins instead of under a roof – is nothing short of a miracle, given the difficult conditions.

The oppressive heat, the blazing midday sun, the dust and the flies make it difficult for children to concentrate on learning and for teachers to teach. “But despite these hardships UNICEF support has been integral to getting the school back on its feet and children returning,” says Mr. M. A. Ansar, who is Al-Arham School’s Principal.

UNICEF is committed to supporting the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education in returning 200,000 children to learning.  So far, this has required a massive logistical operation that included the distribution of emergency school supplies such as school furniture, uniforms and school-in-a-box kits as well as the clean-up of 102 schools.

Why are some children still not back in school?

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2005/Grusovin
A young girl from Al-Arham School in Addalaichenai, clutching her slate from a UNICEF supplied school-in-a box kit.

UNICEF is also deeply concerned about the thousands of children who are still languishing outside the safety, security and familiarity of the school environment.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there are a number of reasons why some children are still not back in classrooms. Poor families who have lost their means of earning a living are likely sending their children to work instead of school, to generate income. Some families are reluctant to send their children to learn in partially damaged or temporary school buildings. Some children are attending schools in other districts which were not necessarily affected by the tsunami and which may not be receiving vital school supplies.

UNICEF is determined to remedy this situation as much as possible, by providing long-term assistance to Sri Lanka’s emergency education efforts. This assistance includes supporting the continuing construction of temporary school shelters, the reprinting of textbooks and the rehabilitation of damaged schools.




March 2005:
Ted Chaiban UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka discusses how the money donated to UNICEF is being spent to help children.

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