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Malaysian company contributes mobile school to Myanmar children

© UNICEF Malaysia/2008/Albert
Malaysia’s Minister of Education Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein chats with Azizah Abdul Rashid, an orphan from Myanmar, after witnessing the handing over of the mobile school unit by VBM Distributors Sdn Bhd to UNICEF.

By Anne Selvarani Albert

KUALA LUMPUR, 28 October 2008  - Six months have now passed since the horrific Cyclone Nargis swept through the delta plains of Myanmar, bringing with it death, sorrow and destruction. As the world watched in horror, thousands of men, women and children were killed and thousands more left homeless.
In some of the hardest hit areas, over 4,000 schools have been damaged and reduced to mere rubble, leaving an estimated 360,000 children without a basic place to learn.

Heeding the call for action, Malaysian company VBM Distributors Sdn Bhd generously stepped forward to give child survivors of Myanmar’s Cyclone Nargis a chance for formal learning again.

On 28 October, at a handover ceremony, VBM Distributors Sdn Bhd donated an Expandable Mobile School (EMS) unit worth RM 222,500 (US$ 65,000) to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The donation was in support of UNICEF’s efforts to create child-friendly spaces that can serve as a make-shift school for children affected by the devastating cyclone.

A part of the mobile school donated by VBM Distributors Sdn Bhd to UNICEF for children who survived Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis.

The event was witnessed by Malaysia’s Minister of Education and UNESCO Board Member Yang Berhormat Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein, who said, “I think that we often forget that children suffer the most from a natural disaster. During these times, they are the most vulnerable to disease, shock and psycho-social trauma. What’s even more damaging is the uncertain future that they face due to the decimation of the community infrastructure in which they need to grow up in.”

“I am therefore glad that VBM Distributors Sdn Bhd has come forward with this contribution and I urge other private sector companies and non-governmental organisations to emulate this fine example,“ he added.

The idea to donate the mobile school unit to UNICEF was a natural decision for the company.

“We wanted to work with an established and respectful humanitarian agency skilled in providing education to children in difficult situations. UNICEF’s 60 years of experience in emergency work speaks for itself,” said VBM Distributors Chairman, Tuan DSP (B) Muhamad Yusof Isa.

Helping children overcome emotional distress

Returning cyclone-affected children to school is a crucial part of their recovery process because the return to school can help children affected by the tragedy to re-establish a daily routine, highlighted UNICEF Malaysia’s Social Policy Specialist Dr. Rudi Luchmann.

“If properly organised, schools can offer a strong foundation for the entire community’s recovery,” he added.

Schools offer an environment where children can build peer to peer support. Here, they can talk to another about their experiences in a safe environment where children can just be children again. Children in particular rely on their daily routines for a sense of security, including the routine of attending school.

However, re-opening, flimsy damaged, schools before they are ready can do children more harm than good. What should be safe spaces for children can become dangerous spaces if kids are rushed back into damaged buildings.

“Re-opening damaged schools before they are ready can do children more harm than good. This is why UNICEF welcomes VBM Distributor’s mobile school unit,” said Dr. Rudi.

“This gift offers children who have suffered so much already a safe environment to learn and play. If these children can't come to the school, we plan on taking the school to the students,” Dr. Rudi concluded.

The mobile school unit consists of a classroom which can fit up to 40 students, a canteen for safe preparation of food as well as separate toilet facilities for both boys and girls. The easy-to-set-up school is also fire and water resistant and includes safety features that protect against natural disasters such as earthquakes.

The unit will be transported to the UNICEF office in Myanmar where the necessary arrangements for its setup will be made.

The unit will complement a range of other services provided by UNICEF to get children back to learning. These include the distribution of over 230,000 essential learning packages to primary school students in 1,427 schools, installation of 435 safe temporary learning spaces benefiting 43,000 students and supporting the repair of 919 damaged schools in affected areas. More than 18,500 children are also now benefiting from psychosocial activities in 104 Child Friendly Spaces.



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