By Yvette Bivigou
MONROVIA, Liberia, 27 February 2008 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman has just completed a visit here to gain firsthand insights into the situation of children in post-conflict Liberia.
“It’s a country that has come out of a difficult time,” she said. “It is a country where we are also seeing tremendous progress, yet so much more to be done.”
After observing UNICEF’s community-based programmes in Liberia, Ms. Veneman cited advances in child protection, health, immunization and distribution of bednets to prevent malaria. Nevertheless, she noted, the country’s mortality rate for children under the age of five – which is the main measure of child health – remains among the highest in the world.
To bolster UNICEF’s efforts, Ms. Veneman announced more than $19 million in additional assistance to the country, mostly for education, bringing the total UNICEF contribution to Liberia to around $35 million for 2008.
During Liberia’s 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003, children’s most basic needs were unmet, their families’ livelihoods were disrupted and their opportunities for education disappeared. UNICEF’s multi-pronged approach to child survival is helping the country tackle the reconstruction of its health and education infrastructure, as well as addressing child protection issues.
As a result of the conflict, Liberia is one of the few countries where the adult population is more literate than the younger generation. The war destroyed at least 20 per cent of the public primary schools and badly damaged a further 12 per cent. The majority of children – even if they are now in school – are therefore lagging behind behind.
This is where UNICEF comes in, supporting the Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP), which reaches out to over-aged children who were associated with the fighting forces during the war. ALP, led by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF and a number of other international organizations, has come to the rescue of many children who missed out on schooling.
Support for business activities
Another strategy that is maintaining children in school, the Business Development Services (BDS) programme, works with demobilized children who graduate from vocational skills training and apprenticeships. The programme offers these graduates a range of skills and services to support the efficiency, profitability and expansion of the business activities they pursue.
“Before the skills training, we were all in the streets from one video club to another, but today we are grateful to UNICEF,” said one young BDS participant. “However, a special note to our mothers: Please listen to our cries, because our sisters and friends and brothers and relatives are still on the street.… They have to learn to be like us.”