By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, April 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - School teachers in the Lake Chad region where Boko Haram is waging an insurgency are being trained to identify and respond to security threats to protect children from the Islamist group, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Schools are particularly vulnerable to bombings, attacks, and abductions by the insurgents but many lack detailed safety plans, the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) said.
Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language means "Western Education is Forbidden", has killed more than 600 teachers and forced over 1,200 schools to close during its eight-year insurgency in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, UNICEF said.
Three years ago, the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by the jihadist group in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria sparked global outrage.
The training program, run in partnership with the European Union, encourages teachers to evaluate the risks facing their schools and helps them develop action plans so that students and teachers know what to do in case of emergency.
"Ensuring access to education for crisis-affected children is important, however opening schools is not enough," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa.
"Children and teachers need to be equipped with knowledge and skills, to be prepared and able to mitigate the effects of something dangerous happening around the school premises," she said in a statement.
In a video provided by UNICEF, teachers in a one-room school in northern Cameroon make a list of threats and map out preventative actions and responses. "Rape", "insurgents", and "explosion" are scrawled on the blackboard.
Some of the plans include appointing student leaders, designating assembly points and practicing emergency evacuation techniques. Some 1,600 teachers have been trained so far.
The training also includes techniques for providing traumatized children with psychological support and making schools feel like a safe place in the midst of the chaos.
Teachers learn games that can have a healing effect, and how to incorporate lessons about looking after each other into the children's activities, UNICEF spokesman Patrick Rose said.
The training program will run until the end of the year and benefit around 158,900 children, UNICEF said.
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Astrid Zweynert. )
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