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UNICEF preparing for surge in enrolment in southern Sudan

KHARTOUM / RUMBEK, 27 January 2005 – Building on the groundswell of hope that is being felt throughout Sudan, Africa’s largest country, UNICEF is stockpiling tents and classroom materials, training teachers, building schools and assisting education officials to enroll thousands more children in the first academic year of the post-war period.

Anticipating the return over the next several months of thousands of internally displaced Sudanese and Sudanese refugees who fled to other countries, UN agencies, local officials, and NGOs are preparing for increased enrolment of children in primary schools throughout the vast region of southern Sudan.

With a peace agreement signed on 9 January, authorities from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls much of the southern part of the country, and from the Khartoum Government, which controls part of the south and most of the north, have been working out modalities to ensure that basic services, including education, are expanded. 

Education authorities in southern Sudan are planning the re-opening of schools at the end of March, after a three-month vacation period.  UNICEF is working to ensure that safe and clean teaching space is available and classroom supplies are in place.

In the southernmost regions of Sudan – Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile – UNICEF‘s assistance in the construction of new classrooms is vital to the reconstruction of the country.  Over 70 schools have recently been built in northern Bahr el Ghazal state in anticipation of large numbers of returnees.

“The importance of education in post-conflict Sudan cannot be overstated,” said UNICEF Representative in Khartoum, JoAnna Van Gerpen. “With the lowest rate of access to primary education in the world, southern Sudan needs to build capacity for its children, and for future generations.”

The chief of UNICEF’s Operation Lifeline Sudan program, Simon Strachan, noted that in SPLM-controlled areas, over 200,000 more children attended primary school in 2004 than in 2003. In some districts in which UNICEF focused its efforts, enrolment of girls increased up to 45 percent between 2003 and 2004.

Strachan noted that in addition to material assistance, UNICEF is training school principals, teachers and community leaders in school management and planning.  “Parents and community leaders often take the lead in building classrooms and organizing enrolment drives when they are provided with the supplies and the know-how,” he said. Classrooms in UNICEF-supported schools will receive adequate supplies such as blackboard and chalk, textbooks, exercise books, rulers and pencils. 

In Juba, capital of Bahr el Jebel, additional teachers are being recruited in anticipation of the expected surge in students whose families are returning after years of displacement in the north or other countries.  Education authorities have indicated their willingness to integrate teachers who fled the conflict in the south and have been living in the northern part of the country. Displaced by long years of conflict, some 400 teachers in and around the capital, Khartoum, have indicated their willingness to teach in communities that have been deprived of adequate education for years.

The SPLM’s Secretariat of Education is being supported by UNICEF to expand the numbers of schools and teachers. “UNICEF has redirected resources to returnee areas,” Strachan said. “Even if we don’t know exactly where, when or how many people will return, we are procuring education, water and health supplies for the sake of the children.”

In the vast IDP settlements in Khartoum state, UNICEF and partners are supporting IDP teachers to undergo an intensive course to upgrade their English language skills. English is the language of instruction in much of southern Sudan. They will also receive instructions on issues such as conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS, landmines, and malaria so they can act as educators and promote awareness of these issues among children and the wider community.

Transportation remains a challenge in this massive country with poor infrastructure. Most people and supplies travel by barge on the Nile River, a slow and often risky means of returning home.  While airlifting is possible, it is expensive.  A large percentage of education supplies are flown into the SPLM areas. More supplies need to move soon in order to be in time for the new school year.

Expectations are high among the people and communities most affected by the war that peace will bring a better life, and in particular, an education for their children.  So far, few donors have come forward with funds for recovery in Sudan. UNICEF has received US$ 2.1 million of the $19.6 million it needs in 2005 to support primary school education for children in the war-affected areas of southern Sudan.

Meanwhile, today in Geneva UNICEF launched its global appeal for children in emergency situations, seeking some $763 million for 33 countries and territories in crisis, including $289 million for Sudan.

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For further information, contact:

Ben Parker, UNICEF Media, Nairobi: 254-73-360-9869

Paula Claycomb, UNICEF Media, Khartoum: +249-12-309410

Anis Salem, UNICEF Reg’l Communication Adviser, Amman: +962-6-553-9977




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