Across East Asia and the Pacific, children are facing hurdles to return to school, as the world recovers from COVID-19 and the evidence of its costs to children’s development becomes increasingly clear.

Lack of internet access during extended school closures and teachers’ struggles to implement new ways of learning have resulted in significant education losses among students, for example. UNICEF is increasing its commitment and funding support for programs across the region to make sure students can safely return to school and get back on track.

UNICEF’s humanitarian action plan for children in East Asia and the Pacific region accounts for challenges across all program areas

There are other challenges. Like many other countries around the world, several nations in East Asia and the Pacific had postponed routine vaccination campaigns during the pandemic, increasing the risk of disease outbreaks. Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services were disrupted for millions of people as service providers struggled with staff health and safety concerns and financial difficulties.

UNICEF’s current humanitarian action plan for the region aims to address these and other issues to meet immediate and long-term needs of vulnerable children and families. Here’s a look at some of the ways that plan is being implemented.

Supporting students’ return to the classroom

In Indonesia, UNICEF and partners have introduced a program to help students safely return to in-person learning. As part of the program, teachers were trained on how to create more engaging lessons online and offline. The program also assisted health authorities in their efforts to reach out to families to explain the benefits of routine immunization and organize vaccination campaigns at schools.

In Laos, UNICEF worked with partners to develop Lao Wisdom Warehouse, the first digital teaching and learning platform that serves as a repository of all key learning and teaching materials for children and teachers across the country. The platform contains all of the official curriculum textbooks for pre-primary and grades 1-12, a large suite of international resources, stories, songs, videos, games and quizzes as well as resources for teachers to support their professional development. As of late May the platform had reached close to 90,000 users.

Above, a family in Lao Cai province, Vietnam, where the vast majority of children faced extended disruptions to their education due to a lack of internet access at home and mobile devices required for remote learning. UNICEF is increasing its commitment and funding support for programs across the East Asia and Pacific region aimed at helping students get back on track.  © UNICEF/UNI328681/Viet NamTruong Viet Hung

In the Philippines, UNICEF supported a pilot program aimed at bringing students safely back to in-person learning at some 300 public and private schools across the country. As part of the program, schools must pass safety assessment tests. As more and more schools open their doors, UNICEF is supporting them by providing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and hygiene kits. 

Increasing immunizations for children

Millions of children did not receive complete basic immunizations due to pandemic disruptions to routine services in 2020 and 2021. Vaccine distribution to remote areas was often hindered by a lack of the proper equipment to preserve vaccines during transit and other transport hurdles. As a result, many areas across the region have seen an increase in cases of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

10-month-old Vito receives his routine childhood immunizations at a village health clinic outside Riau Islands Province, Indonesia, during a UNICEF-supported national vaccination campaign. © UNICEF/UN0647181/Clark

Efforts to increase immunization coverage among children and close these immunity gaps continues. In Cambodia, UNICEF is supporting the installation of over 100 freezers across 25 provinces to ensure the preservation of critical vaccines. In Laos, for example, UNICEF supported the installation of two walk-in cold rooms and delivered over 1,000 pieces of cold-chain equipment for safe transport to hospitals and health centers. 

In Indonesia, UNICEF has been providing support and training on effective vaccine management and delivery for health workers in several of Indonesia’s provinces, including helping a team reach children with essential vaccines in the far-flung Aru Islands in Maluku. To further improve the country’s immunization rates, vaccinators have launched door-to-door campaigns and established posts in public places like mosques, churches and schools, with UNICEF’s support.

Supporting menstrual hygiene to keep girls in school in Cambodia

When girls are able to manage their menstrual hygiene at school, attendance goes up. In Cambodia, UNICEF and partners are working with schools to upgrade facilities and provide hygiene supplies to support these needs. 

Voeurn, 12, a Grade 6 student at Ang Run Primary School, in Tramkak District, Takeo Province, Cambodia, shows informational booklets about menstrual hygiene management and other matters provided to students through a UNICEF-supported program. “If I ever get my period at school or home and have questions, I know who to talk to,” Voern says. © UNICEF Cambodia/2022/Bunsak But

“In the past, girls would often miss a week of school each month. Since we started our MHM [menstrual hygiene management] program, school attendance is up,” primary school director Suong Sethy said. “Now we are focused on ensuring we have a consistent supply of sanitary pads, disposal bins in the girls’ latrines and MHM education even for the boys. It’s covered in the boys’ book, but we have to keep reinforcing that girls need privacy and respect.”

Twelve-year-old Voeurn, a Grade 6 student at Ang Run Primary School, in Tramkak District, Takeo Province, says she still feels shy discussing the subject but having learned more about it, she is more confident she can manage. “If I ever get my period at school or home and have questions, I know who to talk to,” she says.

Bringing indoor toilets to a school in rural Mongolia

Until recently, outdoor open-pit latrines had been the only bathroom option for over 500 students and 75 school staff at School No.4 in Zavkhan, a western province and one of the coldesta. A standard setup in rural Mongolia, the latrines are unhygienic and even dangerous in winter, taking several minutes to reach on foot over slippery ground. 

Menstrual hygiene was particularly challenging for the girls, who would have to spend extra time out in the bitter cold while changing their sanitary pads, which would often lead to health problems like cystitis. The lack of handwashing sinks and soap meant children regularly suffered from intestinal infections.

Classmates enjoy their new and improved facilities at School No. 4 in Zavkhan, western Mongolia, where UNICEF and partners installed indoor toilets to replace outdoor open-pit latrines as part of a community-based climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene project in the country. © UNICEF Mongolia

That all changed once indoor toilets — part of a new community-based, climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene complex — were installed. “Thanks to UNICEF, I no longer have to worry about being late for the next lesson,” says Demberelnyam, 17.

Emergency WASH in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Odette

After Typhoon Rai — known in the Philippines as Super Typhoon Odette — struck the Southeast Asian country in December 2021, damaging homes and leaving many families without electricity, UNICEF helped meet urgent needs for safe water and sanitation, nutrition and child protection in affected communities. Other priorities for the emergency response included preventing the spread of infectious disease and helping children get back to learning.

Reyn, 12, who lives with his mother and a cousin in Barangay Baybay, Burgos on the island of Siargao, were among hundreds of households that received emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene support from UNICEF in the aftermath of the storm.

“I want to be an electrician someday so that if a power outage would happen because of a typhoon, I would be able to help in restoring it,” Reyn says.

Reyn, 12, of Barangay Baybay, Burgos, Siargao, the Philippines, and his family received emergency water, sanitation and hygiene support from UNICEF along with hundreds of other households in the wake of Super Typhoon Odette. © Action Against Hunger Philippines/Benjie Montilla

Providing children with safe spaces for play after a volcanic eruption in Tonga

Within days of the January 2022 volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga, volunteers who had taken a UNICEF-supported psychological first aid course were reaching out to children and engaging them in a variety of activities designed to help them cope with any trauma they may have suffered.

“We provided psychosocial support to children by doing activities with them such as playing games, drawing and singing songs,” says Pasepa Ve’ehala, one of the volunteers who received the UNICEF training. 

These efforts were a critical component of the government-led emergency response, helping to restore a sense of normalcy in the lives of affected families and children. 

UNICEF programming reaches vulnerable children and families in 27 countries across East Asia and the Pacific. Learn more about UNICEF’s work and support UNICEF’s mission to save and protect vulnerable children and families across the region. Donate today.

Top photo: Grade 7 students gather in the entryway of Sin Cheng lower secondary school in Vietnam. © UNICEF/UN0509382/Viet NamTruong Viet Hung