|© UNICEF oPt/2006/Sabella|
|These children in the West Bank have formed their own advocacy groups promoting the right to education.|
By Jane O'Brien
NEW YORK, 1 September 2006 – Ongoing violence in the West Bank and Gaza is threatening to disrupt the new school term as more than 1.6 million children prepare to return to classes. The situation is compounded by poverty; teachers haven’t been paid for six months and are threatening to strike while many families can’t afford the cost of fees or uniforms.
UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and other partners are launching a Back to School campaign with aid for those most vulnerable.
UNICEF’s Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Dan Rohrmann, says school is a vital lifeline to these children who are living in daily fear and danger – 39 were killed in July alone.
“They live in an environment of extraordinary fear, violence and insecurity, and on top of that they’ve had a very, very difficult summer with a lot of incursions, a lot of shelling,” he says.
“Children really feared to play outside. They didn’t go to the beach. They didn’t go to the parks. They were playing inside. So going back to school means bringing back normalcy and bringing back the daily life that children like.”
|© UNICEF oPt/2006/Sabella|
|Lamees Moeen, 16, and Ibrahim Daood, 17, say violence has no place in schools.|
Galvanizing community support for education
To confront the challenges ahead, UNICEF and its partners have organised a number of focus groups with students, parents and teachers. The sessions are aimed at galvanizing community support for education.
Some children have organised their own advocacy groups to tackle the impact of violence in schools. Almost half of all students have been exposed to violence in the last year and many say it’s the reason they drop out.
“When talking about the main challenges for school, it is security we are really lacking. Financial support can be somehow secured, but the stress among children cannot be easily solved,” says Sahar Jared, a teacher in Gaza.
“In addition to financial constraints, teachers face security threats and constraints such as road blocks and barriers which affects both teachers and students,” says another teacher, Jamal Abdel Halim in the West Bank. “Financial and psychological challenges should be solved.”
Children themselves say education is vital for their future but violence and poverty are undermining that basic right.
“I will face a problem when studying because of the electricity and water cuts, but I have to study to continue my education,” says 12-year old Omar Al Sayyed.
As part of the Back to School campaign, UNICEF is helping to make schools more child-friendly by providing teaching and learning materials, as well as helping struggling parents pay for uniforms and school supplies.
Middle East crisis
Palestinian students return to school [with video]
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Renewed violence in Gaza [with audio]
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Post-war, Israeli and Lebanese teens talk [with audio]
In Lebanon, back to school at last [with video]