Furnishing a New Future
UNICEF and partners are on the ground to ensure that children are provided with the needed materials and opportunities to build a new future for themselves
Hatay, Türkiye - 6 months after two devastating earthquakes hit southeast Türkiye, the impact of the earthquake on children's lives still lingers. Pointing to the UNICEF-supported early childhood education (ECE) classroom in the tent "My mother sent me here. Our school was destroyed, so I came here," says Özlem. "I didn't know anyone when I came here, but after I came to school, I met everyone," she says with a smile.
5-year-old Özlem radiates positivity, she quickly befriended her peers, turning a tent into a hub of laughter, learning, and shared dreams. Özlem, whose school and home were both damaged, is staying with her family in a temporary accommodation shelter. More than 165 pre-primary schools and almost 51,700 young children were severely affected in Hatay; and overall, the education of more than 4 million students was interrupted in the earthquake-affected provinces.
More than just a place of learning, the ECE tent became a place of growth and healing. "I've been here for five months, and I love it here (referring to the ECE classroom tent)," says Özlem. When asked about her dreams for the future, she says two things: "To become a doctor and to go to the pool."
Özlem's favorite activities reflect her zest for life: marbling art, games with friends, riding her bike, and engaging in creative activities. She adds, "When I first came here, I felt really good. Besides, I made a lot of new friends here: Didar, Aziz, Kerim, Bahar, Eylül, Furkan, Türkan..." As she flourished in the company of her classmates, teacher Figen says “Özlem transformed into a compassionate friend, always ready to lend a helping hand and share her warmth with others.”
Her teacher Figen recognizes the trauma the earthquakes had inflicted on the children, observing that many arrived with fear in their eyes, as they grappled with the loss of homes, family members, and friends. However, with time, Özlem and her peers began to find solace in the nurturing environment of the ECE tent classroom, their fear was slowly replaced by a sense of belonging.
UNICEF, together with the implementing partner Türkiye Development Foundation and with financial support from UNICEF Netherlands National Committee stepped in to ensure that children like Özlem could rebuild their lives. Through the child, adolescent, and family support hubs, as well as ECE classrooms, UNICEF and partners provided a lifeline for recovery and resilience.
The support from UNICEF Netherlands National Committee enabled UNICEF to furnish 25 tent classrooms in provinces affected by the earthquakes with essential materials and furniture, creating a space that encouraged routine, creativity, and a sense of normalcy for the children. Figen underlines the significance of this environment for the children's development, noting how the classroom setup empowered their growth and sense of normalcy.
Özlem's story encapsulates the power of hope, community, and education in the face of adversity. Her journey from fear to friendship, from shattered dreams to aspirations of becoming a doctor, mirrors the unwavering spirit of a young generation determined to rise above challenges. It demonstrates that with the adequate support, children can keep dreaming and being children despite the adverse circumstances.
The ECE tent classroom in Hatay is one of those spaces for children like Özlem, who survived the two earthquakes that struck southeast Türkiye and northern Syria in the early hours of 6 February 2023. In Türkiye, the 7.7 and 7.5 magnitude earthquakes affected 11 provinces with a population of 13.5 million Turkish citizens and 1.7 million registered refugees, including 5.4 million children – 811,000 of whom are refugees.
UNICEF is working around the clock to expand the centers and provide temporary education spaces, while collaborating with the government to rebuild better and more environmentally friendly schools in the affected areas.
Nearly six months after the earthquakes, the needs are still immense as 4 million children in Türkiye are still in need of educational assistance. UNICEF in Türkiye has appealed for $196 million to support children affected by the earthquakes with a funding gap of 33% (64 million USD) needed to meet this target.
UNICEF calls on donors to ensure this assistance is provided through flexible funding and is released in a timely way to allow UNICEF and partners to respond to changing needs with rapid and sustained interventions.