HUAMBO, Angola, 28 July 2005 - The foundations of peace are now firmly in place in this country, which had been ravaged by civil conflict. Now, another sort of foundations are being laid: Construction of new schools is taking off, as part of the rejuvenation effort for Angola's shattered education infrastructure.
Angola, entering a new phase of hope and renewal, is bursting with potential for the future. The cheerful pink façade of a newly completed school in rural Caala, in Huambo province, is a very real symbol of a bright new future for Angola's children.
For eight-year-old Leandro Duarte Bandeira, this means that the nightmares of war which used to torment him are being replaced with dreams of a new school.
"I remember the war, bombs falling, houses falling, children being taken off their mothers' backs and shot at," said Leandro. "I used to have nightmares that I was being chased by the military and they were shooting at me. When I tell my father, he says it is normal because of the war.
"But now I think about my perfect school. This for me would be a school with proper windows, doors, desks, electricity, a vase with flowers in my classroom, a garden, a playground, and breakfast so we can study properly," he said. "Not like now - there's a lot of noise, we're all squashed in together."
The scars of battle
The battle for Huambo between the ruling MPLA (in English, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola - backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba) and the rebel UNITA movement (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, backed by the United States and South Africa) was one of the fiercest of the three decade long war.
The scars of war are everywhere, even at San Jose primary school, where the doors and windows were casualties of the war and bullet holes pockmark the walls. Some 2,000 pupils do their lessons back-to-back among the ruins.
Even though it is a primary school, San Jose is now forced to accommodate older children as well. The pupils are closely packed in what is left of the building, perched on tiny plastic chairs or rusty tin drums, writing on scraps of paper. In one room children are learning their Portuguese vowel sounds and in another they are lining up to write sums on a scratched blackboard. Some classrooms have no roofs. When it rains, school is off.
Schools for Africa initiative
But the reconstruction effort is now starting to bear fruit. Alongside broken buildings like the San Jose schoolhouse, there are emerging splendid colonial facades, sidewalk cafes and other new structures. Damaged but repairable schools are being renovated.
With the signing of the peace accords in April 2002 and the subsequent end to hostilities, there have been greater opportunities for UNICEF to build partnerships for children in Angola.
Under the regional Schools for Africa (SFA) initiative, 1,500 schools will be repaired or built in Angola over the next three years through UNICEF's partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, with support from the German National Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF Germany).
This effort has attracted support from private donors like businessman Peter Krämer, who has donated $1 million to support the Schools for Africa project in Angola, through UNICEF Germany. Mr. Krämer has also pledged an additional $3 million.
Mr. Krämer visited Huambo province on 19-23 July to see the project's progress. Accompanying him were Dietrich Garlichs, executive director of UNICEF Germany, and Heide Simonis, board member.
But there's a long way to go. The civil war in Angola was one of Africa's longest and most devastating conflicts. In a mere three years (1996-1999), some 1,500 school buildings were destroyed. Sixty per cent of Angola's people are children; development must start with restoration of schools and education.
UNICEF is committed to supporting this work. Mariko Kagoshima, UNICEF's head of office in Huambo, says the greatest problem now is a lack of access to schools. "The Schools for Africa initiative is providing easy access to education for children, especially in the rural areas," she said. Ms. Kagoshima emphasizes that success can only be achieved by working together with the government of Angola and sustaining the momentum towards a peaceful future.