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Frontline Diary

21 July 2004: Keeping Darfur’s children in school


In the latest of her diary entries from Darfur, UNICEF Communication Officer Sacha Westerbeek reports on aid agencies’ ongoing efforts to help children continue their schooling in the troubled region, where more than a million people have fled their homes..

DARFUR, 21 July 2004 - Today I’m writing about the situation of primary education in the camps. The majority of schools that have been constructed are made out of thatch woven from grasses collected by women and girls from the surrounding countryside. The structure, which costs around US $300 and is called a “rekuba,” is very easy to make and maintain, there are some problems. One is that the schools need plastic to protect the kids from the rain. However, plastic does not protect a school from being washed away from the rain and Haboobs (wind and sandstorm). This week in Abou Shouk, an IDP camp in North Darfur, an entire school consisting of 16 classrooms was completely washed away by the rain. Nothing is left!

UNICEF and the state Ministry of Education are now supplying canvas, plastic sheeting and steel poles for about 1,000 classrooms. They cost about US$800 and are easily transported – even by donkey – and constructed. Each tent is supposed to cater for about 50 pupils. This is ideal for temporary sites like camps for displaced people, and nomadic populations. By the time the displaced people return to their villages they will also be in need of schools as they might have been destroyed during the conflict. In the meantime the tents will also been used by the host communities. In some cases, displaced people live in buildings like schools. This is not very good for the relationship between host community and the displaced people, and we have to make sure that all people in need have access to basic services. UNICEF does not work for displaced people or refugees alone, but for the rights of all women and children in Sudan.

© UNICEF/2004/Westerbeek
Two girls attending classes at Kalma camp, South Darfur

The following day, the main focus of the morning meeting is the hygiene education campaign, which aims to prevent outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoeal diseases. UNICEF and partners are in the process of finalising the campaign strategy.

The numbers of displaced people suffering from bloody diarrhoea is on the increase. Latrines and water points are being constructed every single day, but this is not enough. The majority of the displaced population is coming from very remote areas where they have not had basic education or good sanitation. Since so many of them are now living in crowded conditions in the camps, the unhygienic conditions are causing serious problems.

Many hygiene promoters have already been working with displaced people on the need to use latrines; washing hands – with soap - after using the latrines and before preparing food; the need to cover the food and how long you can keep it etc.

We hope that by helping change this very basic daily behaviour, there will be a change in their daily routine. When the displaced people go back to their villages we hope that this will be maintained. A simple and relatively cheap intervention such as hygiene education sounds trivial, but can save thousands of lives at the end of the day!



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 A source of life and death for children in Darfur and Chad.  UNICEF's Francis Mead reports...

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