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After war, it’s Back-to-School for Liberian children

UNICEF launches “brave campaign” to bring hundreds of thousands of children back to school – with ship, canoe, and wheelbarrow

GENEVA/NEW YORK/MONROVIA, 3 November 2003 - UNICEF today said that it expects hundreds of thousands of children to return to studies during Liberia’s Back-to-School campaign – thousands of them for the first time in their lives.

Speaking from New York on the first day of the massive education push, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that it is expected that increasing numbers of children – up to 750,000 - will take to their books as the effort to reach them extends into still troubled counties.

“This is a brave campaign, launched at a fragile time in the peace process,” said Bellamy. “It’s a courageous step, agreed to by the peace signatories, and a significant seal on the peace agreement. It’s absolutely right that the first dividends of peace should be paid to Liberia’s children, who have endured so much for so long and who hold the future of Liberia in their hands.”

The Liberian Back-to-School campaign is modelled on similar post-war education drives launched by UNICEF in other countries, including Afghanistan in 2002.

Difficulty in reaching parts of the country because of continuing insecurity and crippled infrastructure has compelled UNICEF to employ some unusual methods to distribute school materials. This includes teachers wheel-barrowing school supplies, and a fleet of outboard canoes to reach river villages.

The Liberian effort includes the training of almost 20,000 teachers, and the rehabilitation of 3,700 schools, providing a major boost to the moribund economy. To encourage parents to send children to school in the first wave, school fees have been waived, and children are no longer required to wear school uniforms.

UNICEF has supported the Liberian government with training and equipment, including thousands of ‘School-in-a-box’ kits, with thousands more kits expected to arrive as other areas of Liberia fall calm. A UNICEF project, funded by the US, aims to provide clean water and hygiene facilities to hundreds of schools.

UN agencies, such as WFP, UNHCR, UNDP and UNOPS are backing the education effort with food for pupils, materials for temporary class spaces, as well as the rehabilitation of schools.

“Back-to-School in Liberia addresses key issues in war-torn West Africa,” said Bellamy. “Children who grow up knowing nothing but war and are recycled across borders to fight, must be offered education and a future at home. Education establishes a path beyond poverty. And a child looking to the future is less likely to pick up a gun.”

*The School in a Box is a mobile classroom for 80 pupils that can be used in any setting.  It consists of a metal box and teacher’s bag, a teacher’s guide and teaching materials.  The kit also includes writing materials including chalk, pencils, sharpeners and exercise books for children.

UNICEF will launch its annual flagship report, the State of the World's Children, on 11 December 2003. The 2004 report presents girls' education as one of the most crucial issues facing the international development community. The report is a call to action on behalf of the millions of children who are not in school around the world, most of whom are girls. The report argues that the theories, policies and practices of development have been marked by gender discrimination and that the standard approach to development has focused on economic growth rather than human welfare. Through the State of the World's Children 2004, UNICEF calls on every nation engaged in development to make the education of all children - with an emphasis on girls - a major focus of investment.

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For further Information please contact:

Durudee Sirichanya, UNICEF Liberia, + 231-652 4978

Margherita Amadeo, UNICEF West Africa, + 377- 475 31424

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva, + 41 – 22 – 909 – 5517,

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York, + 1 – 212 – 3267426,




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