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UNICEF Provides Transitional Shelter Schools in Remote Earthquake-Affected Areas

© UNICEF/PAKA0002/Bisin
Shamim Akhtar is the primary school teacher at Sarikala, GGP School.

By: Sandra Bisin

Neelam Valley, Pakistan Administered Kashmir, 28 April 2007: It is 1pm at Sarikarla Government Girls’ Primary School in Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the North-East Pakistan, and the 54 students are actively participating in a mathematics class. They frown and concentrate on the blackboard, but a mischievous smile appears on and off the serious faces. Despite temperatures reaching up to 37 degrees Celsius outside the building, the air circulates easily through the windows of the brand new school building and keeps the atmosphere cool. 

“Everything is so much better with the new school. I like it even more than the building we had before the earthquake. It is so nice and fresh inside! We pinned Meena* posters to the walls and our teacher even put curtains on the windows. Of course I am still a bit scared another earthquake might hit my community again, but at least I feel more secure”.When asked about her new school environment, 12 year old Zaeen’s face lights up. “Everything is so much better with the new school. I like it even more than the building we had before the earthquake. It is so nice and fresh inside! We pinned Meena* posters to the walls and our teacher even put curtains on the windows. Of course I am still a bit scared another earthquake might hit my community again, but at least I feel more secure”.

Zaeen’s primary school was severely affected by the 8 October 2005 earthquake, which claimed at least 73,000 lives in Northern Pakistan. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the school was hosted in a tent distributed by UNICEF.

“But it was extremely difficult to teach in the tent because of the terrible heat in summer time and the extreme cold during the winter”, remembers Shamin Akhtar, the 35 year-old Sarikala school teacher. “This new school is now a much safer and nurturing environment. Psychologically, the children and I also feel better. I can now concentrate on teaching and students can focus on learning.” 

© UNICEF/PAKA0003/Bisin
UNICEF transitional shelter for Sarikala Govt. Girls Primary School in Neelam valley, AJK

From March 2007, UNICEF initiated the construction of transitional shelters in targeted areas to provide children in remote earthquake-affected locations with a safe learning environment.

“UNICEF has developed clear criteria for constructing these structures”, explains Brenda Haiplik, a UNICEF emergency education officer. The fact that no other organization has committed to build a permanent school building in the selected location is one of them. Land availability is a prerequisite, as well as the community involvement in terms of provision of unskilled labour, material and transport capacity. Community participation can significantly reduce the cost of the transitional shelter school. The fact that several schools are situated in mountainous areas (900 to 2,000 meters high), where access is difficult, poses an additional challenge”. 

About 200,000 Pakistani rupees (about USD $3,300) were needed to build Sarikala transitional school. The construction of a transitional shelter requires approximately six weeks. “Sarikala primary school is made of a cement base, corrugated iron sheets, plain galvanized iron sheets, wood, plywood and plastic for the windows. With all materials combined, the school is now a protective haven for students”, says Rahman Ullah, UNICEF construction project officer.

“Now our minds are at peace”, says Mr. Zaeeb, from the School Management Committee. “Our children are secure and they are in a conducive environment for learning”.

UNICEF also provided basic sanitation facilities in the school by constructing latrines to service the 54 students and their teacher. A water supply system is also being restored in the school as the promotion of safe sanitation practices is an essential component of the recovery activities supported by UNICEF.

“Now our minds are at peace”, says Mr. Zaeeb, from the School Management Committee. “Our children are secure and they are in a conducive environment for learning”.

UNICEF has supported the enrolment in government primary schools of about 400,000 children in 6 earthquake-affected districts in the North of Pakistan, including more than 13,000 children – mostly girls - who had never attended school before. More than 4,800 schools in temporary shelters (tents) have been made functional through the provision of tents, teaching aids, learning materials and teachers. This Spring, UNICEF will start the construction of a first batch of 125 permanent primary schools to accommodate out of school and currently enrolled children as well as the primary school needs of children in future years.

UNICEF’s major donors for Education activities in earthquake-affected areas in Pakistan are the Australian Government through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the European Community and the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

* Meena is the main cartoon character of educational materials developed by UNICEF in South Asia. She is a spirited, nine-year-old girl who braves the world – whether in her efforts to go to school or in fighting the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in her village. Meena is widely recognised and appreciated in most South Asian countries, and is a successful advocacy and teaching tool for girls’ and children’s rights. The Meena figure has achieved remarkable popularity as she tackles the key issues affecting children, and the threats to the rights of millions of girls in South Asia. 

 

 

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