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Teachers in Boko Haram-hit region trained to keep schools safe

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign rally in Abuja, Nigeria, to mark 1,000 days since over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their secondary school in Chibok by Islamist sect Boko Haram on Jan 8, 2017. Source: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

School teachers in the Lake Chad region where Islamist group Boko Haram is waging an insurgency are being trained to identify and respond to security threats to protect the children, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Schools are particularly vulnerable to bombings, attacks and abductions by the insurgents, but many lack detailed safety plans, the UN children’s agency Unicef said.

Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language means “Western Education is Forbidden”, has killed more than 600 teachers and forced over 1,200 schools to close during its eight-year insurgency in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, Unicef said.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo receive the 21 Chibok school girls released by Boko Haram, in Abuja, Nigeria last year. Source: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde.

Three years ago, the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by the jihadist group in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria sparked global outrage.

The training programme, run in partnership with the European Union, encourages teachers to evaluate the risks facing their schools and helps them develop action plans so that students and teachers know what to do in case of emergency.

“Ensuring access to education for crisis-affected children is important, but opening schools is not enough,” Unicef regional director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier said.

“Children and teachers need to be equipped with knowledge and skills, to be prepared and able to mitigate the effects of something dangerous happening around the school premises,” she said in a statement.

In a video provided by Unicef, teachers in a one-room school in northern Cameroon make a list of threats and map out preventative actions and responses. “Rape”, “insurgents”, and “explosion” are scrawled on the blackboard.

Some of the plans include appointing student leaders, designating assembly points and practising emergency evacuation techniques. Some 1,600 teachers have been trained so far.

The training also includes techniques for providing traumatised children with psychological support and making schools feel like a safe place in the midst of the chaos.

Teachers learn games that can have a healing effect and how to incorporate lessons about looking after each other into the children’s activities, Unicef spokesman Patrick Rose said.

According to Unicef, the training programme will run until the end of the year and benefit around 158,900 children. – Reuters

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