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Children waiting to return to school following Peru quake


More than 220,000 children in almost 1,000 schools in earthquake-affected regions of southern Peru are waiting for news about when they can return to school.

Bryan, nine, from Pisco, is anxious to get back to class: “We’ll probably have to study in the streets or in a tent, maybe, as our school is in bad shape after the earthquake.”

Meanwhile, Azucena, 11, who attends primary school in Pisco, says she loves school and has lots of fun. Now she says she’s bored spending all day with her family in a tent made out of bed sheets. “I feel sad because I was in fifth grade and we were going to have a party for all of our friends graduating from sixth grade, now there will be nothing. So many of us have lost friends and family so we’re all feeling very sad.”

An important next step in the process is reaching out to parents, said Baltazar Lantaron, Regional Director of Education in Ica. “We need to send out some positive messages to parents about how important it is to get children back to school and to help them through this transition period,” he said. “We also need to ensure that school curriculum can be adapted to deal with the current situation. Students are not going to have the physical and emotional capacity to return to the same point of their studies pre-earthquake.”

According to Peru’s Ministry of Education, children such as Azucena and Bryan will most likely return to school in a prefabricated classroom erected on or near the site of their damaged school; more than 300 are being installed in a first effort in Pisco and in three urban areas hit hardest by the 15 August quake which measured 7.9 on the Richter Scale.

UNICEF, in coordination with other United Nations agencies, including Peru’s Ministry of Education, UNESCO, non-governmental organizations specializing in education, and local and regional government officials, is working together to help children get back to school as quickly as possible.

“Education is an essential part of UNICEF’s response to humanitarian emergencies like this one,” said Dr. Guido Cornale. “Getting children back into school, whether in a tent or a building, is the best way to help them regain a sense that their lives can be normal again.”

The task of re-opening schools will be a major challenge on many fronts.

First, engineers and civil defence officials must inspect all schools in the quake-affected areas to ensure their structural soundness and determine whether any of the schools can be re-opened. According to reports, hundreds more prefabricated classrooms will be required.

Some 1,500 teachers, many of whom fled the region, are returning. Prior to classes starting, teachers will require psychological counselling to help them cope with being victims too.

Children and parents will require counselling after living through this traumatic period, many still hungry and homeless, frightened of aftershocks and of being separated from their families.

Students who lost all of their belongings, including all of their school books and supplies, will need back-to-school kits to resume their studies.

Last Tuesday in Geneva an appeal for funding to the international community was issued. UNICEF is asking for $1.1 million for the next six months.

Part of the requested funding will go to temporary educational facilities, providing sanitary facilities for schools and training school staff to monitor water quality; expertise to adjust the school curriculum and activities to the temporary environment; providing basic school supplies.

In addition to focusing on getting children back into school, UNICEF will work to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation, protecting vulnerable children and young people. It is estimated that more than 10,000 children below the age of 5, and 5,000 children in the disaster zone will receive assistance.

UNICEF will work in partnership with Peru’s Ministry of Women and Social Development, municipalities in regions affected, private sector companies, and non-governmental organizations to establish child-friendly spaces in temporary shelters, including day care centres, and organizing recreational activities for children.

“Children are invisible victims in a natural disaster” said Guido Cornale, UNICEF’s Representative in Peru. “UNICEF will contribute in the areas where we think we can have the greatest positive impact—getting children back to school and supporting children and youth left vulnerable after the disaster.”


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