Hundreds of thousands of children in conflict-hit Central African Republic – some of whom have missed up to two years of formal education – will have the chance to get back to school as a UNICEF-supported campaign gets underway. The initiative aims to help 662,000 children resume their studies, as schools gradually reopen in safer areas of the country.
By the end of December UNICEF and partners will provide education supplies such as schools-in-a-box, a kit containing essentials like exercise books and pencils, and school backpacks to approximately 400,000 students, as part of nationwide efforts led by local authorities.
“The reopening of schools is a ray of hope for children who haven’t entered a classroom for months and even years,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Representative in Central African Republic. “Where it’s safe, children can and should go back to school. Where it’s too dangerous, we do all we can so they can learn – even without a formal classroom.”
Nearly two years of violence in the Central African Republic have affected more than 2 million children and have plunged the country’s formal education system into a state of crisis. Many school buildings have been either damaged, looted or taken over for other purposes. At the end of the school year last July, almost sixty per cent of the schools were still closed. When the security situation further deteriorated about a year ago, many teachers and students were forced to flee and many parents lost their sources of income and could not afford basic school materials.
While the new school year was officially launched last week, the return to school will take place gradually on the ground. Priority is given to safe locations, mainly in the west and south-eastern part of the country, where learning materials will be distributed and teacher training provided.
In areas deemed insecure, children are unlikely to return to school immediately but will instead benefit from alternative learning methods developed by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education.
“A classroom is not only a place where children are taught how to count, read and write,” said Fall.
“Especially in times of conflict, a classroom is a laboratory where the next generation of Central African citizens learns how to live together in peace and harmony. More than ever in this country devastated by violence and hatred, investing in education must be a top priority.”
UNICEF continues to call on all parties to the conflict to uphold the safety and protection of all children, and to respect the status of schools in line with humanitarian principles and law.
Earlier this year UNICEF appealed for US $81 million to provide emergency assistance to conflict-affected children in Central African Republic, including education. With less than one month left in the year, only half of the required funding has been received.
UNICEF is working to improve teaching and learning conditions including through increased access to safe water and adequate sanitation in schools as well as by building and rehabilitating schools damaged during the conflict. UNICEF is also organizing community mobilization campaigns throughout the country using community radio to encourage parents to send their children to school where security permits.
Almost a million people have been displaced by violence-- the majority of whom are women and children.
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