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Bringing Out-of-School Children to School for the First Time

© UNICEF/PAKA/Bisin
Abdulla, showing the prize he won at a school competition

By Sandra Bisin
 
Maira Camp, Shangla, North West Frontier Province, 8 June 2007 – In the shade of his tented home at Maira Camp, Abdulla removes the gift paper wrapping the school prize with the utmost care. Then holding the cup in both hands, the 10-year-old boy exudes his pride and excitement with a grin and a gleam in his eyes.

“I won the cup at a school contest a few months ago. On that day, I promised myself I would study hard and get a prize every year”, he beams.

Just a year and a half ago, Abdulla could not read or write. He had never been to school. The young boy, his mother and two sisters lived off the land of a large landowner in Kohistan, a challenging, mountainous and isolated area of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, tending cattle and crops in exchange for a humble dwelling. His village was located in a remote, high altitude area, nestled in a valley surrounded by steep mountains.

“I won the cup at a school contest a few months ago. On that day, I promised myself I would study hard and get a prize every year”, he beams.

“l did not get to see my father a lot as he was working in Karachi to improve our family’s income”, Abdulla recalls. In rural areas of northern Pakistan, especially Kohistan, subsistence agriculture and livestock are major sources of employment.  However, due to limited opportunities, a significant proportion of men leave to work in the Middle East while others work in the big cities of Pakistan, most of them as construction labourers.

On 8 October 2005, the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that killed over 73,000 people hit Abdulla’s community. While the whole family survived, their house collapsed. They also lost their cattle.

Within two weeks, Abdul’s father returned to the community and they were transferred to Maira Camp. A six-hour drive from Kohistan, Maira was the largest camp for earthquake survivors, hosting up to 26,000 people in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Today Maira Camp is home to 95 landless families that have no place to return to. Abdulla’s family is one of them.

© UNICEF/PAKA/Bisin
Abdulla, 10 years old, is going to school for the first time

“I went to school for the first time in this camp. I really enjoy it. We also play soccer and cricket. There was a school in my village but the teacher was never there. So I helped my mother tending our cattle”, Abdulla says.

Absenteeism among teachers is high in Pakistan and numerous "ghost schools" existed in northern areas of the country prior to the earthquake. For UNICEF and partners, the disaster created an opportunity to bring out-of-school children to school. Through UNICEF support, nine out of 10 children in earthquake-affected areas are in school today – including 13,000 children that had never been to school before.

“Today Abdulla can read and write in both Urdu and English. He also knows numbers. Now he is rating first in his class”, says Omar Rehman, his teacher.

“I went to school for the first time in this camp. I really enjoy it. We also play soccer and cricket. There was a school in my village but the teacher was never there. So I helped my mother tending our cattle”, Abdulla says.

Maira Camp’s school is providing primary education to 38 Kohistani children who have never attended school before. In Kohistan, the literacy rate is only one per cent, as opposed to Pakistan’s national literacy rate of 53 per cent (36 per cent for women and 65 per cent for men). 

“In the initial days, there were up to 200 Kohistani children in Maira Camp. Now a majority of children have gone back to their communities. Before they left the camp, children were given a “school leaving certificate”, an official document that indicates how long they have studied. This certificate will enable children to enrol in another school”, says Iftikhar Khazi, Education Project Manager for BEST, a Pakistani NGO partnering with UNICEF.
 
With the help of partners like BEST, the Human Resource Development Society (HRDS) and Save the Children, and the support of local Parent-Teacher Associations, UNICEF makes sure that children from Maira Camp returning to their communities in surrounding districts continue going to school. So far, 80 per cent of the targeted enrolment rate in UNICEF-supported schools has been achieved.

UNICEF is working in six out of the eight earthquake-affected districts of the North West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
 
Thinking about the future, a big smile appears on Abdulla’s face: “I want to continue studying and become a teacher one day.”

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 Commission and the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Internet links

AusAID:
http://www.ausaid.gov.au/

CIDA:
http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/index.htm

Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:
http://www.government.nl/index.jsp

European Commission:
http://ec.europa.eu/index_en.htm

 

 

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