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Helping Iraq's children get back to school

Dubai telethon raises awareness and almost $2 million for UNICEF-supported programmes

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 7 September 2004 - The near US$2 million raised so far as a result of the Back to School telethon, (Dubai TV, September 3) will provide timely and essential support to help rebuild Iraq’s devastated schools. 

“Iraq’s education system has suffered from decades of neglect, isolation and under-funding, as well as destruction and looting inflicted during the recent war,” said Roger Wright, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative for Iraq. “These funds donated by residents in the Gulf and beyond confirm laudable regional commitment to helping Iraq’s children,” he said.

Wright expressed deep appreciation to the esteemed patron of the telethon, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and to telethon co-sponsor, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, wife of the President of the UAE and leader of the General Women’s Union of UAE.  He further thanked the leading telethon partners, including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment, Dubai Aid City, Dubai TV, and the UAE Red Crescent Society, for their outstanding efforts on behalf of Iraqi children. 

The six-hour telethon was built around music, poetry, and live interviews with Iraqis in Baghdad including children. It featured contributions from many famous Arab personalities -- Safeyya Al Omary and Iman El Bahr Daweesh from Egypt, Naseer Shamma from Iraq, Ghanim Sulaihy from Qatar, Soaad Al Abdallah and Mohammad Al Mansour from Kuwait. Recorded messages were sent by Iraq’s Elham El-Madfaie, Lebanon’s Asi El-Hilani and Egypt’s Ehab Tawfeeq.  Live telephone calls during the telethon included Mohamad Sarwat from Egypt and UNICEF’s Regional Goodwill Ambassador, Mahmoud Kabil, who called from New York City where he was visiting the agency’s headquarters.

Several leading International Goodwill Ambassadors for UNICEF sent messages of support and solidarity including Sir Roger Moore, Harry Belafonte, Mia Farrow, Vanessa Redgrave, Angelique Kidjo and Nana Mouskouri. Prominent non-governmental organizations, including the UAE Red Crescent Society, participated in the telethon, as did several United Nations’ agencies. Representatives from the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme joined the UNICEF team, which was led by Rima Salah, Regional Director, and Alan Court, Director of Supply Division in calling for regional support for Iraq’s children. 

The show featured a live-link to Baghdad and interviews with Dr. Shafeeq Al-Mehdi, Director General of the Children's Culture House, Mr. Jaleel Khaz’al, Child poet/educationalist and Dr. Kadhim Al-Rikabi, Director of Programmes at Iraqiya Television.  Also interviewed were 17 year-old Ahmed, who spoke of the frequent explosions and other risks faced by children in Baghdad on a daily basis. 

Sixteen year-old Shayan talked about the special problems faced by girls. “We cannot go out alone anymore,” she said, “Like most of my friends I am always escorted to school because of the dangers from bombs and the risks of kidnapping.”  Meanwhile 12 year-old Ihab described the terrible conditions in his school – with leaking roofs and broken toilets.

Referring to a recent survey, successfully conducted even amidst the volatile security conditions, by the Ministry of Education and supported by UNICEF, Wright highlighted that participation of girls in school is lower than that of boys and called for equity. “There are nearly 14,000 primary schools in Iraq, with about 4.3 million students - 2.4 million boys and 1.9 million girls,” he said.  “The lower figure for girls in school is no doubt a reflection of ongoing insecurity, inadequate access to school, over-crowding, and poor water supply and sanitation facilities.” 

Mr. Najdat Mohammed Zeki, Senior Advisor on School Rehabilitation participated in the telethon on behalf of the Iraq Ministry of Education. He revealed that more than 3,700 primary schools in Iraq were without a safe water supply and more than 7,000 primary schools without an adequate sewage system. Over 4,000 primary schools have leaking roofs and an estimated 30,000 additional primary school classrooms would be needed to resolve the problem of overcrowding.

To date, each school has cost an average of US$50,000 to rehabilitate. In close cooperation with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF has already rehabilitated 225 schools, and has plans for the rehabilitation of 400 more. UNICEF is also helping to repair water and sanitation facilities in more than 1,000 schools. 

UNICEF and the Iraq Ministry of Education have also jointly developed a package of basic educational supplies for primary and intermediate students (Grades 1-9.).  Each package only costs about US$5 per student and includes a backpack, notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and a drawing book. Students in grades 1-4 also receive crayons, while students in grades 5-9 receive drawing instruments. Funds so far contributed to the telethon can thus help to provide basic education kits for up to 400,000 Iraqi children.

The Dubai telethon marked only the beginning of helping to meet the urgent educational needs of Iraqi children. Additional contributions can be made at any time up to 3 December 2004.

For as little as the equivalent of $5 you too can play a part in revitalising Iraq’s education system. 

Contributions can be made by:

Depositing to the Dubai Back to School Telethon Account at any one of the Mashreqbank’s 34 branches, Account number 4490075120

Credit card, telephoning Local 6001478 International +971 6001479

For further information please contact:

Sara Cameron, Communication Officer, UNICEF Iraq, +962 (0) 79 650 5006, scameron@unicef.org
Anis Salem, Regional Communication Officer, UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office, +962 (0)79 557 9991, asalem@unicef.org




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