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Reclaiming normalcy, children in Lebanon return to school at last

©UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
Students on their first day back in the classroom since the end of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah damaged or destroyed hundreds of schools in Lebanon.

By Serene Assir

ANSARIYYEH, Lebanon, 16 October 2006 – “During the war, I was very scared,” said Fatima Abbas, 10. “Every day, I thought I was going to die. There was so much bombing, and I thought things would never go back to normal again.”

The 34-day war in Lebanon that ended on 14 August caused nearly 1,200 deaths and tremendous damage, not only to infrastructure but also to the Lebanese psyche – not least among children. Now, however, like that of so many of her peers at the partially damaged but still running Ansariyyeh Public School in south Lebanon, Fatima’s mood is different.

“Now that I am back in school, I feel that things can go back to normal,” she said. “I am so happy to be here, to see my friends and to see my school again.”

Step towards recovery

No doubt, today’s reopening of schools across the vast majority of the country is a vital step towards recovery for both children and their families.

“We were very worried that Mohamed wouldn’t be able to attend school this year,” said the boy’s mother, Marwa Mughniye, whose family lives in Tyre. “But now that he is back in school, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.”

According to government assessments, between 40 and 50 schools were completely destroyed during the war, while around 300 suffered partial damage. Of those that have suffered damages, some will continue to hold classes and activities for children in safer areas of the school building, pending the arrival of prefabricated classrooms and the implementation of double-shift classes.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
A young student contemplates the damage at Ansariyyeh Public School.

Beyond the physical damage that has made it impossible for hundreds of children to attend their old schools, the war had profoundly damaging psychological effects. Children especially have suffered, given that a third of the fatalities in the war – and just under half of those displaced – were minors.

“When it started to rain the other day and I heard thunder, I got very scared,” said Zainab Hassan, 11. “I thought the bombing had started again.”

‘A day of hope’

Recognizing the centrality of education to Lebanon’s overall recovery from the war, UNICEF has worked closely with the Lebanese population as a whole and the Ministry of Education in the run-up towards the return to school.

In addition to providing 400,000 school bags for children across the country – which are already being distributed in the south and the Beqaa Valley in the east – UNICEF is providing public schools with 7,000 School-in-a-Box kits. Each kit contains enough materials to run a classroom.

UNICEF is also working to help heal children’s emotional scars, as well as raise awareness about the dangers of unexploded ordnance. Teachers are being trained to provide mine-risk education and to manage a classroom of students who have emerged from a conflict situation.

“I’m glad to be back in school, because now I feel a little safer,” said Yousef Mustafa, 16, who attends school at Maarake, near Tyre.

Added UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Roberto Laurenti at a school-opening ceremony at Ansariyyeh: “Today is a day of hope. School provides great psychological relief, and gives children the ability to put the war behind them.”


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13 October 2006:
UNICEF Education Advisor and UNGEI Regional Advisor Malak Zaalouk and talks about preparations for Lebanon’s National Back-to-School Campaign. 
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