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UNICEF Helping Turkey Reopen Schools Damaged by Earthquake - 2003-05-10

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has sent 100 school tents to Bingol, Turkey, for the planned reopening of schools next week. The recent earthquake there seriously damaged 18 of 30 schools.

UNICEF says the school tents will accommodate about 2,000 primary school children in Bingol. The children's agency calls the reopening of schools an important step toward a return to normality in the aftermath of the earthquake. It says the schools will focus on both the educational and psychological needs of the children.

During the quake, 85 children out of 200 at one school were killed when their dormitory collapsed. UNICEF spokesman Damian Personnaz says many children are severely traumatized as a result of this and other brutal events.

Mr. Personnaz says schools provide a friendly environment where children can learn to overcome their anxieties.

"The teachers are actually the best persons - apart from their relatives - the best persons to really see what are the main differences in the kids they used to know before, prior to the earthquake and after the earthquake," he said. " They can see that kids used to be easy to socialize, to socially meet with people, and then, suddenly, they are starting to be very lonely, or they tend to cry, or they become very aggressive."

Because the teachers know the children, Mr. Personnaz says, they are in a position to give them the kind of help they need. He says trained teachers and school counselors will provide therapy.

Based on past experience, he says, about 90 percent of children traumatized by natural disasters or war are able to recover through community help, peer education and creative activities.

"They just have to express what happened to them. They need to talk. About 10 percent of them will develop some more severe post-trauma, and these kids, or these children need to be treated individually, and sometimes it can last between six months to two years," he said.

Mr. Personnaz says the schools also provide psychological counseling for the parents, many of whom are likely to feel guilty that they could not protect their children from danger.

Along with the tents, UNICEF has sent what it calls schools in a box. Each one of these special kits provides basic educational supplies for at least 80 children.