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UNICEF--Educating Afghan Children

UNICEF has been working in Afghanistan since 1949, and is collaborating with the United Nations to respond to this crisis. Specifically, UNICEF is conducting emergency relief operations to support children and women in Afghanistan and five neighboring countries and has assumed leadership in the program areas of emergency nutrition, health care, education, water and sanitation, and protection.

As a non-political organization, UNICEF fulfills its mission to work on behalf of children and women without regard to political, ideological, or religious concerns. UNICEF focuses solely on need and reaches the least visible, most vulnerable, poorest children. We make no distinction between the needs of children in areas controlled by the Taliban and areas controlled by the opposition Northern Alliance.

UNICEF's Approach
The twin strategy of UNICEF through the 2001-02 winter is to: (a) ensure the survival of the most vulnerable children and women in Afghanistan through the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance; and (b) to initiate recovery and rehabilitation activities in key sectors of direct benefit to children and women at national and sub-national levels, in both urban and rural areas. These strategies will include basic education for both girls and boys, as well as child protection activities, rehabilitation of water supply and sanitation systems, child and maternal health care. An investment in children and youth, especially in their education, shows a clear commitment to the future of Afghanistan and must be a priority in all recovery efforts. The active role of women in national and local recovery activities will be supported.

Education in Afghanistan
According to a 2000 survey by UNICEF, taken during Taliban rule, eight out of every twenty boys and nineteen out of twenty girls were unable to attend school, even though education officially has been free and compulsory since 1935.

Literacy rates are poor. Another UNICEF survey, conducted in 1997, found that only 35 percent of men and 10 percent of women in urban areas could read "easily or with difficulty." In rural areas these rates drop to 26 percent for men and 3 percent for women.

UNICEF's Approach to Education
UNICEF believes that education is the fourth pillar of emergency relief and their activities in Afghanistan reflect this priority. In cities, displaced persons? camps, and accessible communities, basic education activities will be maintained or initiated, in collaboration with a wide range of NGOs, both national and international, working to ensure the provision of basic education to both girls and boys. It is essential that people have hope for the future, and ensuring basic education for their children can help create that sense of hope.

Most existing formal schools close at the onset of winter until March. However, there is considerable parental demand for their children to continue to learn. UNICEF will expand its work with partners to support home-based schools, some of which are winterized, and to encourage local communities to open community schools where possible during the winter season. Emphasis will be placed on the provision of expanded schooling opportunities for girls. Textbooks and other reading materials, as well as teacher-training modules, have already been developed and are available for use in expanded activities.

UNICEF is also providing education for Afghan children through Edukits. Edukits (also called "School-in-a-box") help to re-establish education for children facing emergency situations. The kit is a means of ensuring children’s right to education in unstable situations, but it can also be effective in the longer term for the delivery of education supplies. Each Edukit contains basic educational materials for up to 80 students. These materials include supplies such as pens, pencils, chalk, slates, scissors, exercise books, and tape. Each Edukit also comes with a Teacher’s Guide that has been translated into the local language. As of November 15th, UNICEF had distributed 400 Edukits along with 15,000 textbooks for grades 1 to 6 in the Pashto language and 16,000 textbooks in Dari.

Stories from the Field
In November 2000, UNICEF helped to support 95 home based schools through an Afghan aid group, Sorvach. One of these schools is the Flower School where dedicated women risked punishment by working as teachers to educate Afghan children. In this school, 300 boys and girls sit on the floor, shoulder to shoulder, in a mud-brick building in western Kabul. There are no chairs or desks. Some kids do not even have notebooks, and write on lap-size chalkboards.

Five years after being shutdown Jalabad?s Girls' School No.2 lacks books to read, lesson plans, furniture, and funds to pay for these materials or teacher salaries. Despite the sparse conditions, 500 girls have come to register for classes now that the Taliban no longer has control of the country. The principal of the school says he has no trouble finding teachers willing to work, even without salaries, since most take second jobs selling vegetables in the market.

How You Can Improve Education in Afghanistan
Edukits go a long way to meeting the educational needs of children in Afghanistan. Each Edukit costs $300 and provides educational materials for up to 80 students. Other donations can help to buy other materials not included in the Edukit such as the textbooks that UNICEF has distributed in the languages of Pashto and Dari, classroom furniture, and other essential materials needed by schools such as Jalabad's Girls' School No. 2. If you are interested in donating to UNICEF?s work in Afghanistan please call 800-For Kids or send your gift payable to the US Fund for UNICEF:

US Fund for UNICEF
333 East 38th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Attn: Meg Gardinier, Director, Non-Governmental Organizations

What Your Money Can Buy for Children and Women in Afghanistan
Here are some examples of how your money can make a difference:

Amount Can buy ....
$1 10 packets of oral rehydration salts (ORS) to treat children suffering from diarrheal dehydration, a leading child killer disease
$1 protect four children against measles. Measles, the world?s fourth biggest child killer, claims more children?s lives each year than wars, famines, and natural disasters combined
$2 warm sweater or jacket for one child
$2 water jug or bucket to collect safe drinking water
$4 shoes and socks for one child
$5 water purification tablets to clean 66 gallons of contaminated water
$7 an infant hygiene kit containing five diapers, detergent, baby shampoo and lotion, and soap
$7 a warm blanket
$8 a cooking set for one family
$17 immunize a child for life against the six major childhood diseases
$19 a winterized tent for one family
$30 provide 750 children with vitamin A capsules for a year. Vitamin A protects children from blindness and reduces death from diseases like measles by 25 percent
$300 a "School-in-a-Box" kit* that includes school supplies for up to 80 children
$1,200 a therapeutic food kit for 100 severely malnourished children
$5,000 a comprehensive medical kit to serve 10,000 people for three months (50? a person)

*The kit contains drugs, medical supplies, some essential equipment, and treatment guidelines for primary health care workers with limited training who can provide general medicine under unfavorable conditions.

The 12 essential drugs in the kit include anti-inflammatories, an antacid, a disinfectant, oral dehydration salts, an anti-malarial, a basic antibiotic (effective against the most common bacteria found in the field, including S. pneumoniae and H. influenza for acute respiratory infections), and an ointment for eye infections.

These medicines can be used to treat symptoms of the most common illnesses facing affected populations (anemia, pain, diarrhea, fever, respiratory tract infections, ear and eye infections, measles, skin conditions, and worms).

None of the medicines are injectable because basic health workers do not know how to prescribe or administer injections.

The basic kit also includes simple medical supplies like cotton wool, soap, bandages, thermometers, some medical instruments, health cards and record books, and several items to help provide for clean water at the health facility.