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2008 Floods in Pakistan

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Rebuilding schools destroyed by floods in southwest Pakistan

© UNICEF/PAKA01/Pasha
Ever smiling Halima, 7, is a student at one of the two temporary schools set up by UNICEF in Dat Village, District Khuzdar, Balochistan.

By Fatima Raja

DAT VILLAGE, Balochistan, September 2007 – The sound of children chanting echoes in the quiet brown hills around the shattered village of Dat. It is early morning and students are still making their way to school, blue satchels slung over their shoulders, to join in the chorus. Class has not yet begun, but the boys are reciting the alphabet and the girls counting to 50, each group trying to drown out the other. The competition is fierce.

"Our house was in the valley. It had one stone room. It was washed away," Halima says. "Our school was next to our house. You can't even tell where it was."

Through the doorway of the one-room girls' schoolhouse seven-year-old Halima's eyes gleam with mischief as she counts energetically: "Forty-eight! Forty-nine! Fifty!" An older student, who is conducting the chorus in the teacher's absence, grins with pleasure at her enthusiasm.

Later, Halima brings out her exercise book. It is inscribed with carefully formed English and Urdu letters. “I like to practice on my slate after school,” she says with an infectious smile. 
 
Devastation from floods

In July 2007, the floodwaters destroyed Halima's home. They burst from between two hillsides, a great gush rising ten metres high. As her family and friends watched, the waters washed away their mud houses, their livestock and crops, and their belongings. It took only twenty minutes. "Our house was in the valley. It had one stone room. It was washed away," Halima says. "Our school was next to our house. You can't even tell where it was."
 
Later, her uncle Abdul Wahab shows me the featureless plain where the school had once been. "We never even found the school cupboard," he recalls. A vigorous middle-aged man, he is a member of the village's education committee, responsible for monitoring the school and ensuring that village children attend. Today, he shares a tent with Halima, her seven siblings and her mother – her father died of fever three years ago.
 
As the more than one thousand survivors of Dat settled in their tents, a UNICEF team and the education committee set up two temporary school shelters. The community members erected frames on which they lashed a thick twig matting. Two UNICEF School-in-a-Box kits provided books and school supplies for 160 children, and recreation kits supplied games and sports equipment. The Dat village school was running again – and this time, instead of having two separate shifts for boys and girls, there was space to run both simultaneously.
 
Abdul Wahab walks outside the school shelters with his niece. Halima pauses, crouches down, and pokes an unwary student through the twig walls. There is a muffled giggle, but her uncle doesn't notice. "We're going to cover them with mud for now," he says. "Inside and outside. Later, we will build stone structures so we can keep the schools going."

© UNICEF/PAKA02/Pasha
Halima loves to practice writing English and Urdu letters on her slate.

The July 2007 floods completely destroyed 216 schools and badly disrupted activities at 1,169 schools in Balochistan Province, where only a quarter of children attend primary school at all. By quickly rebuilding schools and providing the supplies that were lost in the floods – or were never available at all – UNICEF hopes to help keep these children in school. Indeed, by improving schooling and providing school supplies to boys and girls alike, they hope to increase enrolment by 10 per cent. A single School-in-a-Box kit provides teaching materials and school supplies for 80 children and one teacher for a period of three months, at a cost of $US 120.
 
In Khuzdar District, where Dat is located, only one in every five boys and one in every twelve girls attends primary school. Yet Dat itself is a rare exception. Before the flood, this was a focus village for girl's primary education. More girls attended the primary school here than boys, even though, lacking a separate building they had to come for the hot afternoon shift. The reason was simple, says Nabi Buksh Baloch, a UNICEF facilitator. "Girls were given the supplies they needed for school." After the flood, it was decided to provide supplies to both boys and girls. Immediately, the number of school-going children rose. "Even today, more and more children are coming to school," Nabi Buksh says. "A new girl started just yesterday," Halima adds.

As the sun rises higher over the dusty hills, the girls run outside for recess into a flat patch of ground bordered by the main road. With them go the contents of the recreation box. Immediately, one group sets up wickets to play cricket. Halima likes to play football, but today she watches from the sidelines, meditatively tossing and catching coloured pebbles.
 
"I want a stone school with a proper latrine," she confides after a while.
 
"What about a house?" Nabi Buksh Baloch asks in surprise.
 
"Yes, but I want a school," she insists. "I come to school to learn. I want to learn, and to build my life."

 

 

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