UNICEF is playing a key role in urgent preparations underway in Gaza ahead of the start of a new academic year on Sunday (September 14th).
The resumption of classes in 395 government-run schools across the territory was delayed as a result of the brutal 50-day conflict with Israel that ended in a ceasefire on August 26th.
Over the coming week, UNICEF’s team on the ground will be focusing on four key areas:
• Coordination to ensure that children displaced by the fighting, or whose schools suffered heavy damage, are able to join a school in their neighbourhood;
• Carrying out immediate repairs and cleaning on schools that were used to shelter families displaced by the violence;
• Planning and organization of a week of special recreational sessions for all schools, designed to allow trained staff to identify children who have been more seriously traumatized by the conflict -- and then refer them for specialized support;
• Procurement and provision of school bags, school stationery and teaching aids; and school uniforms and shoes to assist priority families who are vulnerable.
“Children have suffered appalling losses as a result of the conflict,” said Pernille Ironside, Chief UNICEF Gaza Field Office. “That’s why it’s so vital that we get as many children as possible back into school immediately, so the healing process can begin in that more familiar environment.”
For some children, the return to class will not be easy.
“I am very sad to go back to school and check on my friends,” said 17-year old Hanadi, who is now living with her family in a school shelter in Gaza city. I do not know if they are missing or still alive. I am very sad and I don’t know how I will go back to school. I am not in a studying state of mind. ”
Others, like 16 year-old Sami, said getting back to school was a sign that some kind of normality was returning.
“For me, school is my second home.… It feels good to be back. ”
At least 501 children were killed in Gaza during the conflict, and over 3,374 were injured. According to the Ministry of Education, 26 government schools were completely destroyed, and at least 207 others (including 75 run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA) suffered varying degrees of damage.
“UNICEF and its partners will be playing a full part in the longer-term reconstruction of schools and the rest of the education infrastructure,” said Ironside. “But for that we will need donors to step forward with the necessary funds.”
Overall, UNICEF’s Back to School campaign is budgeted at just over $16 million until the end of 2014.
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