Schools pick up pieces in aftermath of quake

15th October 1999 at 01:00

For schools re-opening after the earthquake - which destroyed 55 of them - the greatest challenge is helping traumatised children and teachers. Jon Gorvett reports.

AFTER the devastation of August's earthquake, children in Istanbul and neighbouring Yalova finally returned to their classrooms after a much-extended summer break.

Some faced an uncertain future without family and friends. Many others returned to counselling sessions from trained psychologists and new earthquake drills.

Further south, in the cities and towns at the earthquake's epicentre, schools remained closed - if still standing at all - while mobile classrooms and "tent colleges" attempted to provide basic teaching for children among an estimated 200,000 homeless.

In the village of Yuvacik, near Izmit Cigdem Ercan of children's charity the Turkish Radio and Televsion Children's Foundation explained, "There is no school standing here at the moment and no other building that will do survived... But in any case, the children don't want to go into another building again - not with bricks, cement and stones."

Some 55 schools in the earthquake zone have been destroyed, while 300 others need major repairs.

Children and teachers have been traumatised by the loss of brothers, sisters or parents, or by the appalling conditions that followed the quake. Yet counselling help for them has so far been patchy at best.

"In our school there is no guidance service, or psychological advisors," said Fikret Gorguner, a teacher at a state primary school in the quake-hit Istanbul suburb of Avcilar. "We have also received no visits from earthquake specialists either."

The return to school has been further complicated by existing educational problems in Turkey.

Turkish parents pay for books, uniforms, stationery and bus services in both the private and state sectors. With prices for these skyrocketing, earthquake victims who have lost property and jobs are finding it impossible to cope.

"I have two kids," says Saadet Hukum from Yalova, whose workplace was destroyed. "It cost me two months' salary to pay for their school things, but my job is gone."

But education minister Metin Bostancioglu has claimed that the state is helping out - providing financial support for school fees and relocating students who have lost their entire families to other areas where they can be provided for.

In addition, he says a system of "accelerated education" may be introduced to make up for the lost weeks of schooling.

Foreign support is also being given to the counselling effort.

The United Nations children's fund UNICEF has begun a trauma relief programme in the worst-hit regions, and American, British and French teams are also working with Turkish counsellors, training them to cope with post-traumatic stress disorders.

In Istanbul, those returning to school saw some new faces, as well as missing ones - orphaned quake victims relocated by the government programme or taken on board by schools themselves.

"We have 20 of these kids at our college," says Briton Philip West, head of maths at the city's private Bahcesehir College, a combined primary and secondary school. "Two in my class have lost fathers, mothers - they've literally got nobody to go to."

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