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By Lisa Schlein
Geneva
01 June 2008

School begins in Burma on Monday. But, few children from the cyclone struck Irrawaddy Delta will be going. The government has delayed the opening for at least one month in the hardest hit places. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is helping the government reopen damaged schools by distributing repair materials, and providing school supplies and learning material.

Children play on the wreckage of their school in the village of Chaung Lin in the isolated area of Kanzeik in the Irrawaddy Delta region, 23 May 2008
Children play on the wreckage of their school in the village of Chaung Lin in the isolated area of Kanzeik in the Irrawaddy Delta region, 23 May 2008
Burma's schools were due to reopen on June 2, one month after Cyclone Nargis struck, killing tens of thousands of people and rendering more than one million homeless.

The United Nations Children's Fund reports 80 to 90 percent of schools were destroyed in the hardest hit areas. Given the extent of the damage, the Ministry of Education has delayed the opening of schools in seven townships in the Irrawaddy Delta and one township in Rangoon.

UNICEF Spokesman, Michael Klaus, says he does not know how many children actually will be going to school. But, he says regrettably it will not be very many.

"One-point-one million is the overall school age population in the affected areas. So, that was the whole number and ideally all of them would have gone back to school next Monday. Due to the damages this is not possible. Only some of the schools which are lesser affected can go back to school."

Cyclone-affected children lined up in the rain waiting for food in the Shwepoukkan area of Burma, 25 May 2008
Cyclone-affected children lined up in the rain waiting for food in the Shwepoukkan area of Burma, 25 May 2008
UNICEF believes it is important that children affected by disaster go back to school as soon as possible. It says school helps them recover from the trauma of loss, from the trauma of having been uprooted. It says school helps to give children whose lives have been completely disrupted a sense of normalcy and security.

Klaus says UNICEF is working with Burma's Ministry of Education to help reopen damaged schools by distributing repair materials as well as essential school supplies and learning matter.

He says over the next six months, UNICEF plans to support the repair and renovation of around 1,000 primary schools and 400 pre-school facilities.

"It is estimated that more than 4,000 basic education schools have been damaged or completely destroyed, which affects a school population of around 1.1 million children. So, what is planned over the next six months is to provide tents, tarpaulins and support the establishment of at least 1,000 temporary safe learning spaces, very simple spaces made of bamboo and tarpaulins to make sure that education can restart there."

UNICEF estimates a third of all those killed by Cyclone Nargis are children. More than 130,000 people are either dead or missing from the storm.

Klaus says many of the children who survived have lost or been separated from their parents. He says they will need special care. He says they will need to be protected from exploitation and abuse.

Klaus says UNICEF is planning to create at least 100 so-called child friendly spaces, which will offer a secure environment for orphaned or unaccompanied children.

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