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Back to school in Gaza, children welcome chance to resume normal lives

© UNICEF oPt/2009/El Baba
A girl inspects the damage to her school on the student’s first day back following the ceasefire in Gaza.

NEW YORK, 26 January 2009 – With the return of hundreds of thousands of children to school in Gaza, UNICEF is providing essential educational equipment and materials to reinstate learning and recreational activities, create safe environments and help restore a sense of normalcy for children in Gaza.

“On the first day of my return to school I was expecting to find damage and destruction because I know that war machine didn’t leave anything in place – no human, no stone. When I first entered, I was shocked from the scenes that I saw—classrooms damaged, windows broken, every corner in the school reminds us of the war,” said Hanady Akeela, 17.

Temporary learning spaces
On 26 January, UNICEF Occupied Palestinian Territory Representative Patricia McPhillips visited Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza where two UNICEF tents serve as temporary learning spaces for girls whose school was completely destroyed.  Four additional tents will be set up in the coming days to accommodate additional students.

“UNICEF is working with partners to establish safe areas and to supply educational material for children in Gaza,” said Ms. McPhillips. “Returning to school provides an important opportunity for children to interact, play, rebuild their routines and overcome distress.”

On 26 January, UNICEF supplied 130 ‘School in a Box’ kits which include items such as exercise books and pens and pencils to 10,400 school-aged children in the Gaza strip. UNICEF also provided about 85 recreational kits, containing sports equipment and other entertaining items, for over 6,700 children, as well as Mathematics and Science kits for 4,200 students.

Schools demolished
Initial reports estimate that seven schools were completely demolished and many more were damaged. Educational materials such as textbooks and stationary were also lost. Schools are operating in double – even triple – shifts  to accommodate children whose schools were destroyed and teachers are helping students begin the journey to recovery. 

“We had each girl talk about her experience. Even the teachers were offered the chance to tell their stories. Every girl had a story to tell,” said English teacher Myasoun Al-Emawi.

“In classrooms where there were students killed, some of their classmates were scared to enter the class and some other classmates refused to sit in the same place where children had been killed.”

UNICEF is also concerned about the risk of unexploded ordnance, and has advocated for the clearance of school areas as a priority. UNICEF is actively raising awareness by distributing a number of informative materials, broadcasting radio messages and printing warnings on games for children.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Education reported an 80 per cent attendance at their schools. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency provides schooling for over 196,000 children in Gaza.






24 January 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports that children in Gaza are returning to school.
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