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By UNICEF Australia
6 October 2020

Millions of children around the world are missing out on school because of poverty, conflict and now COVID-19. Without a quality education, these children face greater barriers to earning potential and employment later in life.

All children have the right to go to school and learn. Whether in the classroom or at home, meet three inspiring teachers who are going to great lengths to educate every child – no matter where they are.

Going the distance  

As the sun rises in Prey Veng, Cambodia, Seng arrives at the community preschool where she has worked for the past 15 years, with a cart full of children. 

Like many of her pupils, the teacher lives three kilometres away, a great distance for little legs. A few years ago, Seng had realised many parents were not able to drive their children to preschool. So, she began transporting them herself, in a borrowed cart attached to her motorbike.  

Seng picks up her students from their homes early in the morning and brings them back when class ends. 

“I expected that the number of children would decrease after some of them would be off to primary school, but it kept increasing.

Seng teaches children at the preschool.
Seng teaches children at the preschool.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Victoria Laroche Creux

Out of the 30 children in the class, four have disabilities. Seng participated in training on inclusive education, implemented by the Cambodian government and funded by UNICEF, which aims to train teachers on specific skills for teaching children with disabilities. 

Five-year-old Chhun is one such student who enrolled in Seng’s class at the age of three. Chhun was born premature at seven months old and has been suffering from various illnesses since birth. 

“At first, he couldn’t even hold a pen,” says Seng. “He was sick often and absent four or five times during the month.” 

But thanks to Seng’s dedication as a teacher, Chhun is improving and will be ready to join Grade 1 next year.  

Do you know a special teacher like Seng in your life? From pencils to sports packs, help them spread their love of learning to every child.

Najeeba teaches children at her home in Pakistan.
Najeeba teaches children at her home in Pakistan.

Bringing the classroom home 

When the children in Najeeba’s family couldn’t go to class, she arranged for the next best thing: class would come to them. “I decided to teach them myself, at home,” she says. 

Like millions of students, Najeeba wasn’t able to continue studying at school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But she was disappointed about more than just the disruption of her own plans.  

“What bothered me the most was that it disrupted children’s education,” says Najeeba, 19, who lives in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province.  

Najeeba volunteered for Mera Ghar Mera School, which means “My Home, My School”, an initiative supported by UNICEF and Balochistan’s Secondary Education Department that helps children continue learning despite the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Najeeba turned a room inside her home into a classroom to teach english, maths and science and receives support in the form of access to WhatsApp groups that provide guidance on home schooling.  

Najeeba also teaches her students how to protect themselves from COVID-19, including explaining the importance of handwashing and physical distancing. 

Mariam, 8, washes her hands at a handwashing station that her cousin Najeeba created at her home
Mariam, 8, washes her hands at a handwashing station that her cousin Najeeba created at her home

Eight-year-old Mariam is one of the children benefitting from the classes. 

“It feels like being at school,” says Mariam. “At school, there are so many students that I sometimes find it difficult to get my teacher’s attention. Here, it’s easy because there are only five students.” 

Whether learning from home or in the classroom, thank a special teacher in your life with a gift that will make a real difference in the lives of children.  

Make a difference to the lives of children
Children and School Coordinator Nicolau wave happily at their school located in a remote village in Ermera municipality.
Children and School Coordinator Nicolau wave happily at their school located in a remote village in Ermera municipality.

In an isolated pocket of Timor-Leste, School Coordinator Nicolau has made it his life’s goal to bring quality learning to some of the country’s most hard-to-reach children. 

Nicolau is no stranger to the barriers children in his country face when trying to get an education. In his youth, Nicolau was studying in the country’s capital when violent conflict erupted. Given that his parents were also no longer able to afford his schooling, he was forced to return to the village where he grew up, putting an end to his education.  

“Back then, the community had a very old school and there were 17-year-olds who were still in Grade 1,” says Nicolau. 

So Nicolau gathered the local parents and authorities and shared his vision to make quality education a reality for the village.  

“There was a lack of knowledge among parents. They couldn’t see the importance of education for the children,” says Nicolau. “Young girls were getting married; others were getting involved in violence. I wanted to change things.” 

The meeting was a success. The president of the Parents and Teachers Association gifted the land on which the school now sits.

Grade 5 and 6 students are taught to help younger students through play.
Grade 5 and 6 students are taught to help younger students through play.

Over the past 13 years as School Coordinator, Nicolau has watched the school grow and improve. 

In 2016, UNICEF began construction on a new school building, toilet facilities – including a separate stall for students and teachers with disabilities – and connected a water system, built with community and school participation.  

Before the construction, the school had three temporary wooden classrooms and no toilets. 

Nicolau says the children – ranging from preschool to Grade 6 – are happier now.  

“They have access to education and the resources they need to learn. They don’t have to walk long distances to fetch water and their teachers are able to deliver quality education to them,” says Nicolau.  

“My greatest hope for the future is that these children’s lives are changed. I want to stay here and continue teaching because I want it to develop even more.” 

Looking for a special gift for a teacher in your life? A UNICEF Inspired Gift is the perfect way to say thank you to someone who taught you so much. 

Here’s how it works

  1. Purchase '1,000 pencils'  – a simple yet vital tool for learning, giving children the chance to put their thoughts and ideas on paper.
  2. We’ll send a personalised card to your teacher telling them about the life-changing impact they're making.
  3. Real pencils will be dispatched from a UNICEF warehouse by car, boat or foot to wherever they're most needed.