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After the floods in Benin, school year starts under harsh conditions

UNICEF provides education supplies and support for rehabilitation

By Edward Bally

GANVIE, Benin, 16 December 2010 – In the past two months, Benin has experienced some of its worst floods since the 1960s. And now, students in the flood zone are returning to school under harsh conditions.

VIDEO: 9 December 2010 - UNICEF's Edward Bally reports on post-flood education efforts in Benin.  Watch in RealPlayer


Even in the lake districts of southern Benin, where villagers are used to floods and live in houses on stilts, the water levels have risen so high that most people had to flee their flooded houses.

In the hardest-hit areas, the education infrastructure has suffered greatly. Hundreds of the schools across the country have been partially or totally destroyed, and have lost significant amounts of teaching and learning materials.

© UNICEF Benin/2010/Sautereau
A boy walks through floodwaters in Benin carrying school supplies in a UNICEF backback.

Overcrowded classrooms

Most of the floodwaters have now receded and the United Nations, along with the government of Benin, is putting in place a long-term response to the crisis. Yet 105,000 school children across Benin are still unable to attend school on a regular basis. In some places, the classrooms are still unreachable.

In Ganvie, a locality in southern Benin, children have been able to start school but overcrowding is an issue because the floods caused the collapse of three classrooms.

“In this classroom, we have children from two classrooms. Each of them had already around 90 children before the floods, “ explains David Houngbadji, the Ganvie school’s director. “Now in this very room, we teach a class of 185 children. We don’t even have the benches to seat them all.”

© UNICEF Benin/2010/Sautereau
At the Ganvié I school complex, Beninese students crowd into remaining classrooms because one school building was flooded and is unusable.

Books destroyed

In Gogbo, near the Oueme River, the village school has remained under stagnant water for several weeks. While the buildings are still intact, most of the teaching materials have been ruined.

“Every single school book we had to start the year has been completely ruined by the floods,” says school director Ambroise Vignon Botondji. “We planned to start school in early October but we couldn’t; the school was still underwater. My pupils are now two months behind.”

To help children get back to school as soon as possible, UNICEF has started distributing school kits. The distribution is starting for schoolchildren in villages located along the Oueme.

© UNICEF Benin/2010/Sautereau
At Gogbo in the Beninese township of Adjohoun, where the school was underwater for two months, notebooks and textbooks no longer usable.

Families without resources

“Parents have lost vast areas of cultivatable land, and many crops have been ruined,” says UNICEF Benin Education Project Officer Sulpice Dossou. “Entire families are left without resources. In these circumstances, when the school year could finally start, they had no means to buy their children the necessary materials.”

This week in Hetin Sotta, southern Benin, some 450 children received books, pens and school bags. UNICEF is supporting the distribution of more than 100,000 school kits overall, as well as the rehabilitation of schools across the flood zone.



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