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Lebanon takes a vital step in post-conflict recovery as students return to school

Ministry of Education and UNICEF officially launch

ANSARIEH/GENEVA, 17 October 2006 – Lebanon’s children are returning to public school one month late following a conflict that destroyed schools and disrupted the education, and lives of hundreds of thousands of students.

“Recovery and reconstruction starts with you,” Roberto Laurenti, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon told children gathered for the official first day of back to school on Monday morning. “Getting children back to school following a crisis or conflict is one of the most important elements in the recovery phase.”

An estimated 300 schools were partially damaged, 50 schools were totally destroyed and more than 400,000 children saw their education interrupted.

Teachers reported that many children were bearing psychological scars, and wanted to talk about their experiences.

The day to day reality of going to school has changed drastically for many, as some families are living in extremely cramped conditions.  Study, sleep, recreation - all elements of a normal life are now a challenge.

Because many schools were destroyed or are partially damaged a large number of children are having to travel longer distances to go to school.

After the ceasefire that ended the conflict, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with UNICEF, initiated a National Back-to-School Campaign with a commitment to ensuring that children in public schools could begin classes on October 16. UNICEF has worked closely with the Ministry of Education to find solutions to ensure access to classrooms where schools have suffered varying degrees of damage.

At Ansarieh Public School where the official back to school ceremonies took place on Monday, one building is damaged to the point where it must be demolished, but another section is intact. To accommodate the school’s normal capacity of more than 350 students, classes are held not only in the remaining wing, but also in pre-fabricated classrooms to be set up in the playground

At the more than 50 schools in Lebanon that have been completely destroyed, children are attending school in neighbouring villages, using double shifts when necessary. Other schools were not directly damaged by the conflict, but housed many displaced who fled their homes. These schools required cleaning and minor repairs. UNICEF has cleaned and disinfected 68 schools in the country.

Since many lost their livelihoods especially in the agriculture sector, money is tight.  UNICEF and partners have stepped in to provide basic school supplies and training.  Essential teaching and learning materials packed in “"School in a Carton" kits are being provided to more than 1400 public and subsidized private schools throughout Lebanon. Teachers will receive materials needed to set up their classrooms, including blackboard supplies, chalk, clocks, coloured cubes, pens, scissors, paper, posters and markers. UNICEF is also supplying 400,000 students with backpacks, notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and rulers.

In addition to providing school supplies, UNICEF is supporting “train-the-trainer” sessions for counsellors who will in turn equip teachers with the skills to work with children affected by conflict or crisis, including identifying and working with distressed children, managing classrooms effectively and contributing to children’s psychosocial wellbeing.

No incident involving unexploded ordnances (UXOs), including cluster bomblets, were reported Monday.  However, UXOs remain the single greatest physical threat to children’s wellbeing in affected areas of Lebanon. Although the schools themselves have been cleared by demining authorities, UXOs still pose a major threat to children near their homes, in fields and other areas where they travel, play or farm with their parents. UNICEF is supporting extensive mine-risk education programs in schools, in addition to child-friendly public awareness campaigns, that focus on teaching children not to pick up unfamiliar objects.

Getting children back to school in a post-war environment requires extensive resources and expertise. Many partner agencies on the ground and funding support from national, regional and international donors made the first day of school for public school students possible – and will make continued recovery a reality.

Even before classes began, the benefit to children of simply being back was clear at schools nationwide. Many children said that they were excited to be back at school to see their friends. Others were also looking forward to their classes.

“It is heartwarming to see firsthand that children are not only resuming education, but in doing so, also resuming a very important part of normal life,” said Laurenti. “School in a Carton" kits marks a vital step in the recovery of Lebanon’s children and their families. There is an enormous amount of work ahead as we work together to rebuild, but the faces of the children we saw today remind us that it is possible.”

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments

For more information:
Michael Bociurkiw, UNICEF Geneva: +41 79 216 9401; mbociurkiw@unicef.org
Soha Bsat Boustani, UNICEF Beyrouth: +961 3 236 167 sboustani@unicef.org
Nicole Ireland, UNICEF Beyrouth: +961 70 908 368 nireland@unicef.org





17 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the first day of school in Lebanon.
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