The initiative was one of the first undertaken by the Sierra Leone Government of National Unity since the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord last summer.
Children who received the supplies are from the Makeni and Lunsar areas of the Northern Region which was formerly under rebel control. A UNICEF assessment in the wake of the peace agreement found schools overflowing with children, but without textbooks and essential equipment such as blackboards, chalk, pencils, erasers and sharpeners. There was also a shortage of teachers as many had fled the area when the rebels entered and have still not returned.
When UNICEF briefed Sierra Leone's Minister of Education, Dr. Alpha T. Wurie about the situation, he agreed to send supplies immediately and accepted the UNICEF offer for transportation and logistical assistance. Two truckloads carrying materials for 50 schools were dispatched.
According to UNICEF Sierra Leone Representative, Joanna Van Gerpen, "Parents and teachers tried to get their children back to school despite continuing insecurity and tension in the region but the schools were functioning without any teaching and learning tools."
"Children were carrying benches back and forth to school each day, due to shortage of school furniture" she said.
"The successful distribution of school supplies to Makeni is an important first step to re-establish Government support in areas previously cut-off due to insecurity," Dr. Wurie said. "We look forward to continuing cooperation with UNICEF to re-start educational services in other parts of the country".
UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Norwegian Refugee Council, is also working to accelerate the reintegration of 'out-of school children' back into normal classrooms. The agency plans to introduce such a programme soon in the Northern Region to further help children there.
Collaborating with UNAMSIL and ECOMOG in the disarmament and demobilisation of children in Sierra Leone, UNICEF has developed programmes to address the needs of children in five demobilisation centres. Children handed over to UNICEF, by UNAMSIL/ECOMOG after disarmament, are immediately registered and undergo medical and psychosocial screening. Within 48hours the children are transferred to the emergency interim care centres. They are provided with clothing, food, moral and civic education and access to recreational facilities. UNICEF also supports family tracing and reintegration (FTR), to ensure the safe integration of children with their families and communities. Children who cannot be reunified immediately for security reasons or rejected by parents or guardians remain in foster families/group homes until they can be reintegrated into their communities.
UNICEF education programmes in Sierra Leone are supported by the Swedish and Norwegian Government and the UNICEF National Committees in Austria and the United Kingdom.
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