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UNICEF Launches Liberia School Campaign - 2003-11-03

The U.N. Children's Fund is launching a back-to-school campaign in Liberia to get hundreds of thousands of children to return to their studies. The agency estimates nearly 50 percent of school-age children have not enrolled in classes in the past two years, and all schools were closed during the civil war.

School opens, officially, in Liberia. But most of the children will not be going.

UNICEF Spokesman Damien Personnaz says the agency hopes to get 750,000 children back to school in the coming weeks. But he admits this will not be easy. "Schools have been looted. Teachers are not going to be paid for a long time. Education, basic education supplies, are missing," he said. "Insecurity is still prevailing in most parts of the country, including in Monrovia streets, although it is much better. But it is still insecure for families to send kids on their own to the schools."

In preparation for the campaign, UNICEF has trained 20,000 teachers, and has rehabilitated 3,700 damaged schools. While this is a good start, Mr. Personnaz says there are not enough classrooms available for all of Liberia's children.

Therefore, he says UNICEF has been distributing thousands of so-called school-in-a-box kits, so children do not miss out on their education. "It is an education kit, which allows 80 children to have basic primary school for one month. You can teach under a tree. ... This is a pure emergency thing. It is not going to last for more than three months," he explained.

To encourage impoverished parents to send their children to school, Mr. Personnaz says, fees have been waived, and children no longer are required to wear school uniforms.