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Press release

The promise of Liberia's back-to-school effort

UNICEF chief says that restoring education in the wake of war will be “an anchor for the children and parents of Liberia”

MONROVIA/NEW YORK/GENEVA, 26 September 2003 - UNICEF today urged the war-weary people of Liberia to fully support the campaign to return Liberian children to school.

Speaking from New York, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that campaigns to draw children back to school in other post-conflict countries had served as “symbols of sanity and promise amidst the ruin of war” for millions of children and their parents around the world.

UNICEF is in the middle of a rapid assessment of Liberia’s schools and other locations used for teaching children. Anecdotal reports suggest that the vast majority of Liberia’s schools are in need of rehabilitation. One UNICEF officer in Monrovia said that she has “yet to see a school that doesn’t need some form of rehabilitation.”

Hundreds of schools have been damaged or destroyed by fighting, or occupied by Liberian families fleeing fighting. Thousands of tonnes of school furniture, doors, roofs and window-frames have been burned for cooking fuel by those displaced from their homes.

Even before the war almost half of all school-age children were not enrolled in classes, while girls made up less than half the number of boys at the primary school level. Only a quarter of Liberian women can read, and only two in five men.

UNICEF has supported back-to-school campaigns for children in Rwanda, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Angola and, most recently, Iraq where the continuing conflict has underscored the importance of safe and stable educational environments for children.

"Children who are educated are better equipped for the future, and less vulnerable to those who would have them take up arms," said Bellamy.

The use of child-soldiers has been a scourge in Liberia since the early 1990s, when former president Charles Taylor pioneered their systematic use in conflict.

"Although our immediate priorities are clean water and the nutritional status of children, Liberians need the encouragement to look to the future," said Bellamy. "Functioning, regular classrooms will be an anchor for the children and parents of Liberia in an uncertain flow of events."

The Liberian Ministry of Education has outlined plans to support all children who can be reached in secure areas to return to school by 20 October. The $6 million campaign aims to reach 750,000 children in phases.

UNICEF and partners are supporting the campaign by supplying basic educational materials for teachers and pupils, schools and ‘learning spaces’; strengthening the Ministry of Education (which was extensively looted); mobilizing parents and communities to enrol children; and encouraging the education of girls to address the imbalance of girls and boys attending school.

UNICEF is framing plans for the demobilization and re-integration of thousands of Liberian child-soldiers.

Major donors for the effort to restore basic rights to education and health for Liberia’s children include (millions): Canada ($0.37), Ireland ($0.27), Japan ($3.1), Netherlands ($0.5), Norway ($0.22), Sweden ($0.58), UK ($1.2), US ($1.6), and UNICEF Natcoms.

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For further information, please contact:

Durudee Sirichanya, UNICEF Liberia, + 231 226138/226141

Margherita Amodeo, UNICEF regional office West Africa,
+ 225 2020 8101 mamodeo@unicef.org

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva, +41– 22 909–5716

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, +1–212–326-7426




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