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Executive Director visits new school for orphaned and vulnerable children

© UNICEF/2007/Wiggers
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman shakes hands with students at the newly constructed Berhan Guzo School in Awassa, Ethiopia.

By George Morris

AWASSA, Ethiopia, 23 February 2007 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman visited the newly built Berhan Guzo School for orphaned and disadvantaged children here on Wednesday.

The school is a UNICEF-led joint initiative developed with the celebrity hosts of ‘Room Service’ – a Swedish reality TV show – the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF and the Awassa-based Berhan Guzo Youth Anti-AIDS Club.

During Ms. Veneman’s visit, students performed a drama depicting issues faced by Ethiopia’s 5 million orphans, many of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS. They spotlighted the situation of children who are forced to live on the streets, calling on the community – and those responsible for upholding the rights of young people – to make sure their needs for love and care are met.

© UNICEF/2007/Wiggers
Students at Berhan Guzo put on a play depicting the issues facing orphans in Ethiopia.

Overdue improvements

The community built the original Berhan Guzo School in response to the impact of HIV/AIDS. Most of the students were orphans who had lost their parents to AIDS, while others were from poor families. At first, the school was only a makeshift building with classroom space for 30 students and no room for the children to sleep.

Many of the students had no option but to live on the street.

The new school consists of two fully furnished buildings with five classrooms, a dormitory, sanitation facilities, a school office and a library. Berhan Guzo’s enrolment has grown to include 189 children.

One pupil named Ethiopia attended pre-school at Berhan Guzo before the new facilities were built. “No one gave us reading or writing materials, and the school was just a hut with a plastic cover,” she recalled. “Now we have everything we need and it is one of the best schools in Ethiopia. We are all so touched by all the help that was given to us.”

© UNICEF/2007/Wiggers
To symbolize the growth fostered by education, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman plants a tree outside the Berhan Guzo School.

Reality TV coverage

Construction of the school was documented on Swedish television’s Channel 5. ‘Room Service’ helped Berhan Guzo complete its new buildings as part of a 10-week reality series, giving massive exposure to the issues surrounding orphans and vulnerable children as well as HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

The series began broadcasting to an estimated half-million people in Sweden on 15 February.

It is through the vision and work of the volunteers who came from Sweden to build the school that its students now have hope, Ms. Veneman said at the welcoming ceremony this week.

Planting seeds of education

The Berhan Guzo youth club was established in 2000 by youth volunteers seeking to make a difference in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in their community. The club is now being showcased as a model for other youth and AIDS education groups in the country.

UNICEF’s assistance to Berhan Guzo is part of a programme that supports hundreds of HIV/AIDS education clubs throughout Ethiopia. These grassroots groups contribute to preventing the spread of HIV and help care for those affected by the virus.

UNICEF is continuing its work with the club and other youth groups in Awassa by training teachers, promoting foster care and advocating for children’s rights, as well as providing educational materials.

At the Berhan Guzo School, Ms. Veneman presented a ‘School-in-a Box’ kit filled with learning aids such as rulers, pens and exercise books. Invited to plant a tree on school grounds as a gesture of thanks from students and volunteers, she noted that it was a symbol of how access to education will help Ethiopia’s children grow into more productive adults.



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