FREETOWN, Sierra Leone—It’s back to school for some 1.8 million children in Sierra Leone, but not from vacation.
After a nine-month hiatus, more than 8,000 schools are reopening after the Ebola virus took over 3,800 lives in west African country.
As children in Sierra Leone returned to schools on Tuesday the government and U.N. children’s agency promised to check temperatures regularly and will promote hand washing to discourage the spread of Ebola in the schools.
“This marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone,” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “It is important that all children get into school including those who were out of school before the Ebola outbreak. Education for all is a key part of the recovery process for the country.”
Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said it hopes that the year’s academic curriculum can still be covered. A small number of junior secondary schools have been open since late March for exams.
UNICEF Sierra Leone facilitated the training of 9,000 teachers in Ebola prevention, safety guidelines and psycho-social support, it said. The organization is also supplying 24,300 hand washing stations, enough for three in every school, as well as cleaning equipment to prepare school buildings.
“Even as we put these extra measures in place to make schools safe places to learn, we must continue to maintain vigilance in the fight against the disease until it is completely eliminated,” Monasch said.
Additionally, school kits will be distributed to all the students, and some 17,000 solar radios are being given to less privileged children in rural communities. Since October 2014, UNICEF has supported the government in running daily emergency radio education programs to allow children to continue learning at home during the Ebola crisis.
The more than yearlong Ebola crisis is estimated to have infected more than 25,500 people and killed 10,587, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone and Liberia both appear to be on a steady path to ending the epidemic. Liberia had reopened schools earlier this year.