FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Children in Sierra Leone returned to schools on Tuesday after staying at home for nine months because of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 mostly in West Africa.
More than 8,000 schools are to reopen for about 1.8 million students and the government and U.N. children's agency promise to check temperatures regularly and will promote hand washing to discourage the spread of Ebola.
"This marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone," said Roeland Monasch, Sierra Leone UNICEF Representative. "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. Only a few schools had opened in late March for exams.
Just over half of the students at a secondary school in Freetown returned to school Tuesday, said the principal, Florence Hyde-Davies.
"It has been a long time sitting at home. I am happy to see my school friends again," said student Amie Kebbie. "I thank God I was not infected with the Ebola disease."
The turnout wasn't as strong at a school for boys, where only about 20 percent of the students attended, but Saint Edwards principal, Frederick Wyse, said he hopes the numbers will increase by the end of the week as skepticism subsides.
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.
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. Liberia had reopened schools earlier this year.