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Myanmar, Republic of the Union of

Aid for cyclone-affected schools, still struggling in remote areas of Myanmar

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Story Photo
© UNICEF/ HQ08-0564/Win Naing
At State Primary School No. 32 in Hlaing Thar Yar Township, fourth-grade students attend class on the first day of school following the disruption caused by Cyclone Nargis. Prior to reopening, the school was used as a temporary relief camp.

By Joseph Lobosco

NEW YORK, USA, 17 July 2008 – In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, up to 1 million people were displaced from their homes and villages in Myanmar. Over the past two months, a massive effort has sought to repair the damage caused by the storm – especially in the Irrawaddy Delta, where it hit hardest.

To help restart classes for students whose schools were damaged or destroyed by the disaster, UNICEF has supplied 1,400 schools with supplies such as chalkboards, textbooks, desks and ‘School-in-a-Box’ kits. Where school buildings are no longer standing, UNICEF has furnished school tents in which teachers can hold classes for students in a safe environment, with children protected from harm and able to learn essential life skills.

Going to school can re-establish the rhythm of normal life for these children and jump-start their recovery.

UNICEF is also helping to ensure that teachers can return to work. “We have been looking at the needs of teachers that have been affected by the cyclones who have lost their homes,” said UNICEF Myanmar Chief of Education Niki Abrishamian.

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Story Photo
© UNICEF/ HQ08-0561/Win Naing
Teachers review items in a UNICEF-provided recreation kit at State Primary School No. 11 in Hlaing Thar Yar Township in Myanmar’s southern Yangon Division.

‘A logistical nightmare’
One of the biggest remaining challenges is to reach the remote areas of Myanmar that have yet to receive proper aid. Ms. Abrishamian described the process as “a logistical nightmare” but added that “being able to transport the almost one-tonne weight of those school tents via boat [to hard-to-reach villages] and raising these tents has just been fantastic.”

Across the Irrawaddy Delta region, the rebuilding process has been gradual. For many of the families affected by the disaster, economic hardships faced by parents are threatening their children's education. Many families are now making the difficult decision to remove children from school in order to help earn household income.

According to Ms. Abrishamian, this could have a major impact on school attendance and reflects the need to provide support for families with children.

Just having a presence on the ground is important for UNICEF and its partners, she said, so cyclone survivors can see that “there are people that are thinking of them and they have not been abandoned or left alone.”

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Story Photo
© UNICEF/Myanmar/2008/Myo Thame
Family kits provided by UNICEF are transported by ferry to Thingan Gyi village, Laputta Township.

Yangon returning to normal
Meanwhile, in Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon, life has started to return to normal. Most of the wreckage from the cyclone has been cleared away, and the phone lines and electricity have all been repaired.

Cyclone Nargis still consumes the attention of Myanmar’s media – but the unending coverage has had a salutary effect.

“In the magazines, even the comic strips are about the cyclone. Everything is about the cyclone,” said Myo Min Aye Win, an 18-year-old resident of Yangon. “Television is encouraging people to donate and offer help to the people from the delta region.”




July 2008: UNICEF Radio’s Joseph Lobosco speaks with UNICEF Myanmar Chief of Education Niki Abrishamian about the task of reopening schools in hard-to-reach areas.
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July 2008: UNICEF Radio’s Joseph Lobosco gets an update from Myo Min Aye Win, 18, about cyclone recovery in the streets of Yangon.
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