Repairing Schools
By Steven Ehrenberg

Zainab Ayad (left), a sixth-grade student at al-Afthath school in Baghdad, looks at the questions being written on the board by her teacher. The students were taking exams on the first day of primary-school testing in June. (Photo: Saurabh Das/AP Wide World)

All Iraqi kids missed two months of school during the war, and they've been making up for lost time this summer. With the help of exam booklets printed by UNICEF, about 5.5 million Iraqis just took their final exams.

UNICEF (UN International Children's Emergency Fund) was founded 57 years ago to help the UN provide European children with food, clothing, and medicine. With more than 7,000 people working in 158 countries around the world, it is now the world's leading organization in protecting children.

From Best to Worst

Ten years ago, Iraq had one of the best education systems in the Arab world. But before the war, a quarter of Iraqi children didn't go to elementary school—and two thirds never made it to high school.

UNICEF has taken charge of repairing schools, training teachers, and providing pens, paper, and textbooks—all the supplies many Americans students take for granted. Many schools were used for non-school purposes during the war. They sheltered Iraqis, served as makeshift medical-care facilities, and stored supplies.

By the fall, the United States, together with UNICEF, plans to send over a million "schools in a box"—kits containing enough chalkboards, backpacks, and materials for 80 students—to Iraq.

"We're calling on both Iraqis and the parties shaping Iraqi society to make the protection of children job number one," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "They should be our first priority—not only in words, but in action. And frankly, I'm not seeing nearly enough action for children."