BUBA REGION, Guinea-Bissau, 11 April 2011 – The Nhala Primary School classroom in Buba is filled with extraordinary excitement when students hear that they are about to receive textbooks. This textbook distribution, part of a major UNICEF programme supported by the Government of Japan, is the first one since 2004 in this fragile West African country stricken by political instability and poverty.
“We will be able to finally see the words in print,” exclaimed Suleimane Camará, 11, anticipating receipt of his fourth-grade textbooks. “We will be able to actually take home our homework and become smart!”
Almost 1.1 million books are being distributed via UNICEF amongst public primary schools in Guinea-Bissau, through a $9 million project grant from the Government of Japan.
The project aims to improve educational access by providing textbooks, classroom construction and literacy training. It is also working to reduce infant and child mortality through health centre construction, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and water, sanitation and hygiene activities.
Significance of support from Japan
Ranking 164 out of 169 nations in the 2010 Human Development Index, Guinea-Bissau is still recovering from the 1998-99 armed conflict that resulted in a decade of political instability, insecurity, weak law enforcement, economic stagnation and withdrawal of many international donors.
Lately, waves of strikes by teachers and health workers due to non-payment of salaries have resulted in school days lost for children and non-availability of health services. In this context, the recent support from Japan, in collaboration with UNICEF, has been especially important.
A ceremony marking the launch of textbook distribution in mid-March started with a moment of silence for earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. Minister of National Education, Culture, Science, Youth and Sports Artur da Silva highlighted the significance of Japan’s support in development of Guinea-Bissau’s education sector.
“It is important to take good care and make the best use of these books,” he stated. “They have been realized through the sacrifice and efforts of [the Japanese] people to ensure that they reach the children of Guinea-Bissau.”
‘I can study better’
At Sanconha Primary School in Tombali Region, student Aminata Sane, 13, is thrilled to be studying in the classroom block recently reconstructed with Japan’s support.
“Before, our classroom used to have holes, so it was difficult to concentrate. But now with the new classroom, I can study better,” said Aminata.
“When I heard about the terrible disasters in Japan, I was very sad,” she added. “I will be praying for God to support them, too.”