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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

New resources and peer education benefit communities recovering from the tsunami

© UNICEF India/2006/McBride
Raja, 6, smiles happily in his newly furnished classroom in Tamil Nadu, India.

By Rob McBride

TAMIL NADU, India, December 2006 ─ During a break in class, six-year-old Raja talks about the different lessons and activities that make up a day at his elementary school in Kannarapatti. “Tamil is my favourite lesson,” he says.

Resuming work at his desk, he carefully copies words in big neat handwriting into his exercise book. Having his own desk is a rarity in this part of rural India, but in Raja’s school, new furniture recently made an appearance in the classrooms.

“Here the children have a chance to sit around tables, and to be engaged in group activities,” said Project Officer Barbara Atherly of UNICEF’s Tsunami Recovery Programme. “They can now work at their own rates, learning from their peers and being guided in their learning process by their teachers.”

UNICEF and its partners have provided several hundred schools in tsunami-affected areas with furniture and learning materials. They are also promoting continuous teacher training to create a stimulating environment for children to learn.
“The whole idea in this tsunami programme is to build back better,” says Ms. Atherly, referring to UNICEF’s commitment to improving tsunami-affected areas. “We’re trying to make sure that we take things to a higher standard than they were previously.”

© UNICEF India/2006/McBride
Young people discuss issues concerning themselves during a peer education programme meeting.

Peer education fills continuing need

One area of concern in tackling the ongoing problems caused by the tsunami has been the increased susceptibility of young people to diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS. Though the use of awareness programmes in school, formal education has played a vital role in reaching young people.  Yet the question of how to reach students who drop out of school has remained.

A centre operating from a small building in the village of Arasur helps to provide an answer.  A local UNICEF partner, the Association for Rural Mass India, runs the Peer Educators’ Programme to increase knowledge about HIV/AIDS among youth aged 12 to 20 at this and other centres. 

“We have a big impact on the young people,” said one of the programme coordinators, R. Mekala. “We recruit some of them to become peer group educators who then interact with other teenagers in the community.”

Rajan, 17, is one of those educators. He first came to the centre because he was afraid he might have contracted HIV from risky sexual behaviour. Rajan has since changed his own conduct and works with the organization helping to alter the behaviour of others. 

These two distinct projects, aimed at helping very different age groups, are both helping communities overcome the difficulties still faced by those recovering from the tsunami.




December 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on efforts to ‘build back better’ in Tamil Nadu, India.
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