Children’s charity Plan International worked with 26 of the 53 primary school children killed in a tragic rail crash in Egypt on Saturday.
A speeding train ploughed into a school bus carrying the children as it crossed train tracks near Manfalut in Assiut, 230 miles south of Cairo.
The bus was carrying over 60 children on its daily service from rural villages and hamlets to school in Bei Adi on Saturday morning (17 November 2012).
The accident is now confirmed to have claimed the lives of 53 children aged between 6 and 13 years old, with 16 other children left in a critical condition in hospital.
Plan International works with schoolchildren and communities in the area, although none were sponsored.
Plan Egypt had planned to start enrolling 300 children for sponsorship by February 2013.
Thirty-three of the victims came from El Mandra village, where Plan works on projects focused on girls’ empowerment, youth leadership and education.
Three of the girls killed in the crash participated in the charity’s popular New Horizons programme, a non-formal education programme teaching health and life skills to help girls shape their futures.
Plan’s Upper Egypt Programme Area Manager, Ayman Sadek says the majority of children on the bus and their families have at least one family member involved in Plan programmes.
Sadek describes the situation as ‘shocking’.
He says: “Seven of the children were involved in our BIAAG [Because I am a Girl] activities in October, and the majority of children’s families have at least one member involved in Plan activities.
“Almost all CDAs members and local Plan volunteers have relatives involved in the crash. The situation is shocking and very bad.
“We as Plan staff have been regularly visiting the community since Saturday. I and almost all programme staff were at the community a few hours after the crash and participated in the funerals. We also conducted visits yesterday and this morning and will go by this evening to give our condolences to the families - as per Egyptian tradition.”
Plan Country Director Edward Abbey said supporting the young survivors of the crash and their communities with psychosocial work is now the ‘first priority’ for Plan workers on the ground.
According to Sadek, many children have been left completely traumatised, with families distraught and reeling from shock.
Abbey said: “Many of the children in surrounding communities were also traumatised by the accident and are now afraid of riding buses.
“The first priority is to provide psychosocial support to the families and communities directly affected by the accident, and Plan staff are working with Assiut University for this.
“The next priority is to work with the Child Protection Committees to develop a strategy for safety in school transportation with the Ministry of Education.
“Plan staff are providing continuous personal support to the communities, and financial support is expected to be given by the government.”
The crash has left Egyptians outraged and calling for improvements to roads and railways, which have a notoriously poor safety record.
An estimated 8,000 people die in car accidents each year in Egypt.
Plan Egypt is meeting with partners to discuss ideas for support – which include providing psychosocial support for those affected; support for the injured in the form of prosthetic limbs and other equipment, and advocacy activities.
All usual Plan activities in El Mandra village are suspended, with Child Day celebrations also postponed.
Learn about Plan’s work in Egypt (http://plan-international.org/where-we-work/africa/egypt)
Information Source: WEBWIRE