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UNICEF Leads Campaign To Get Displaced Children In Georgia Back To School

The UN Children's Fund is leading a campaign to get thousands of children displaced by the war in Georgia back to school. UNICEF says getting children, who are traumatized by war back into a structured school program, will help them regain their sense of normalcy and well being. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Because of the crisis in Georgia, the start of school this year has been delayed. School now will begin on September 15. And, communications officer for the U.N. Children's Fund, Robert Cohen, says UNICEF would like some 35,000 children displaced by the war to be in the classroom when school opens.

"UNICEF views the return to school in September as a golden opportunity to help children begin to recover from the trauma of war and restore their hope in the future," he said. "And, we are concerned, along with the rest of the humanitarian community, that not all children will be able to return to classes on time."

Cohen says there are logistical problems. He notes many of the people who fled their homes during the fighting between Georgia and Russia are living in schools and kindergartens. He says alternative facilities will have to be found either to house these IDPs or to act as temporary schools for the children.

He says the reluctance on the part of some parents to send their children to school is another problem that needs to be overcome.

"Our office and other agencies have heard concerns on the part of parents that they want to send their children to school," said Cohen. "They want to send them to schools in safe and hygienic conditions. We have also been working our water and sanitation and hygiene teams to disinfect and clean up schools that were used as IDP shelters."

Cohen says there are problems of overcrowding in the collective centers and the tent camps in areas North of the Georgian town of Gori and in Gori itself.

He says displaced people are being registered and protection measures are being put in place to allay these concerns. He says it is important to ensure that families are in safe and appropriate conditions.

In preparation for the start of the school year, UNICEF has distributed over 100,000 so-called school-in-a-box kits. This includes enough learning materials and tools for 80,000 children.

Cohen says UNICEF also has distributed hundreds of recreation kits and has begun mine awareness projects to educate children about the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnances.