"The first materials will be transported on Saturday to two villages that are ready to commence," Robert Ndamobissi, the administrator in charge of monitoring and evaluation at UNICEF, told IRIN on Wednesday.
Ndamobissi was a member of a government-UNICEF joint mission that toured the Boda region from 10 to 21 January. He said the Comite Francais pour l'UNICEF had granted US $150,000 to help the promotion of girls' schooling. UNICEF will provide manufactured materials such as cement, iron sheets and other equipment, while local communities will provide bricks, sand and labour.
Even though Boda is at the middle of the country's diamond mining industry, the mission found schools there were poorly built, with straw roofs and no walls, which meant they often had to close during the rainy season. Qualified teachers were also rare.
"We visited 15 villages, each having its own precarious school, and we found only two qualified teachers," Ndamobissi said.
Of 60 children at each school only 10 were girls, he said. The mission found that low school enrolment for girls was due to a number of factors: insufficient schools, tradition, the diamond industry and early marriage. Ndamobissi said it was common for girls in the area to marry at the age of nine years.
In its report, the mission said it had won over some parents who would otherwise have preferred their daughters to engage in small-scale trading at the diamond mines or marry early. It said the parents had promised to send the girls to school.
Apart from supporting the schools, UNICEF said it would train 51 teachers - at least three for each school. The qualified teachers will then take two or three ordinary classes each morning, and run special classes in the afternoons for pupils who had abandoned school or for those over the school age.
"By March or April we will have well-built schools with qualified teachers who will be paid by the community," Ndamobissi said.
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