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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Rebuilt schools help to restore a sense of normalcy

Impact on children

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1356/Pietrasik
Fifth-grade students leave the new Al Badur Vidhyalaya school building in Akkarapattu, Sri Lanka. Rebuilt by UNICEF, the school replaces one that was destroyed by the tsunami, forcing children to attend classes in temporary buildings until September 2008.

By Jane O'Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 23 December 2008 – The impact of the 2004 tsunami was particularly hard for children. Thousands lost family members and homes, and experienced upheaval that profoundly changed their way of life.

M.A. Razeen and S. Mohammed Fazith were just six years old when the tsunami devastated their largely Muslim community of Akkarapattu, Sri Lanka. M.A. Razeen lost an infant brother who died after drinking contaminated water, while S. Mohammed Fazith survived only because his father rescued him.

"When I was playing I saw the sea coming," he remembers. "I went to mother to tell her about that. I returned. Then I saw big waves. I ran from there and fell down. My father came and pulled me out of the water."

Return to a permanent school
S. Mohammed Fazith and his family spent several months living with an uncle while their home was rebuilt. Lessons were held in a hut at the local mosque. "We found it very difficult to study. Stray dogs and cows used to enter our classroom," the boy recalls. "It was our duty to remove the droppings. There were no sanitary facilities."

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1274/Estey
Girls sweep and clean the area outside new latrines and taps - installed with assistance from UNICEF - at SDN Karang Rejo Elementary School in the mountain village of Bener Meriah in Aceh Province, Indonesia.

Adds M.A. Razeen: "There was not enough drinking water. We had to drink water fetched from the well. The roof was leaking. There were no doors. There was so much heat in the classes because of the direct sun light."

Now the boys walk past the ruins of their old school to reach the new building that opened this year.

The school serves 150 families and was rebuilt by UNICEF and its partners. Built on a child-friendly model, it has 10 classrooms and offers government-provided uniforms, books and midday meals. It's so popular with its students that the principal expects enrolment to increase.

Protecting children from conflict
The story is similar in other tsunami-affected communities.

Thruppathi Vidhyalaya school, also in Sri Lanka, was rebuilt with UNICEF funds and completed in June 2008. The school serves 75 students aged 5 to 10 years from a poor Tamil community. During construction, 10-year-old Ramya was sent to study in a neighbouring community and exposed to the country's civil conflict as a result.

"It was very difficult to study there," she says. "We heard gunshots. There was fighting during school hours.... Due to that fear, we came here.

"Here we have more teachers and they are good. The teaching is good. They have built a bathroom for us. A van comes to pick us up to go to the school. We can reach our school by 7:30 a.m. if we leave home by 7 a.m. I have friends."

Faith in the future
In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the new Peukan Bada school has restored 11-year-old Putri's faith in the future.

"I like mathematics," she says. "With mathematics I can get any job I want. When we go out to work, if we do not know mathematics we will not succeed. That's why I like mathematics. I can count pretty fast too."

For all these children, school has been a vital aid in helping them regain a sense of normalcy after the tsunami. And in the long term, by providing a safe environment and promoting education, UNICEF and its partners have helped ensure a better future for communities and children afflicted by the disaster.




December 2008: UNICEF correspondent Jane O'Brien reports on the tsunami's disproportionate impact on children.
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