⊆ One Million Students go Back to School in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) UNICEF working to keep Palestinian children in school Jerusalem, 01 September 2003. About one million students returned to school today in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after a summer break during a “Back to School” campaign supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In partnership with the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE), UNICEF resumed its campaign to prepare thousands of children for the resumption of classes in a region battered by a damaged economy and severe mobility restrictions. In the run-up to the opening of the schools today, UNICEF assisted impoverished families by distributing more than US$170,000 worth of supplies. These include uniforms and backpacks (containing stationary and writing materials) to 10,000 children who are most affected by the current crisis in the West Bank and Gaza. Using TV spots, billboards, posters and leaflets, UNICEF has supported a media campaign to encourage parents to send their children back to school. This month also marks the start of an ambitious UNICEF training programme for more than 2000 teachers focusing on life skills based education. UNICEF’s support for the education sector in OPT comes at a critical time. Years of conflict have dealt a harsh blow to this sector, damaging some 300 schools and forcing school children to miss classes. Severe restrictions 쭯 day-long curfews, closures and check points - have caused considerable disruption for teachers and for students of all ages. Children living in the districts of Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Hebron and Rafah are most affected. According to the MOEHE, 498 schools were disrupted and closed because of curfews, sieges and closures from September 2000 to the end of April 2003. UNICEF is working to ensure that as many children as possible have the opportunity to compensate for days schools are closed, by supporting alternative self-learning education projects such as remedial education worksheets for students in Grades 1-6. To lessen the impact of the disruptions on psycho-social growth and development, during the summer months, UNICEF supported 311 summer camps reaching 42, 000 children aged 6-18 years old. In coming weeks, UNICEF will roll out safe play areas where children can gather, play games, socialize 쭯 with a view towards helping them overcome the traumas of the conflict. According to the UNICEF Special Representative in OPT, David Bassiouni, ensuring that children attend classes regularly is one of the most important ways of helping children put the conflict behind them. "Creating an environment that helps children lead as normal a life as possible during this tragic conflict is something we must all strive for," said Bassiouni. Bassiouni added that adults on both sides of the conflict have a special responsibility to protect children from violence. "Children’s right to education and protection must not be denied." UNICEF has been working to improve the situation of children and women in OPT since the early 1980s.