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Students in the Earthquake Zone Looking Forward to Their New BA School

© UNICEF/PAKA/Bisin
Eight-year-old Akia at the UNICEF-supported Matta Nilishang government primary school in Battagram

By Sandra Bisin
Battagram, North West Frontier Province Pakistan, 26 October 2007 – Sitting on colourful mats, in the shade of the tents provide by UNICEF for their school, Matta Nilishang primary school’s 226 students find it easier to study than just a few months ago, when the scorching heat of summer time made it difficult for them to concentrate on their studies. “This tent is good”, says eight-year-old Akia. “It protects us from the wind and the rain. But in summer, it is too hot and in winter, it gets really cold. I have seen workers on the site behind the school. They’re building a new school for us! I am so excited. I hope it will be completed soon!”

“This tent is good”, says eight-year-old Akia. “It protects us from the wind and the rain. But in summer, it is too hot and in winter, it gets really cold. I have seen workers on the site behind the school. They’re building a new school for us! I am so excited. I hope it will be completed soon!”Akia's school in Battagram, in Northern Pakistan, collapsed during the 8 October 2005 earthquake that killed over 73,000 people. “I remember it well. We were standing up outside our school that time, singing the national anthem, as we do every day,” recalls Akia. “Then the earth started shaking. I was so scared. I saw the whole school building collapse. All the other students were crying and screaming. That scared me even more.”

Fortunately, no one in Akia’s school and village died.  “A few people were badly injured”, she says, “but we all survived.”

Matta Nilishang is one of the five schools in Battagram that UNICEF is rebuilding thanks to British Airways funding. The buildings are being designed to be earthquake-resistant, UNICEF also committed to supporting the provision of furniture as well as female teacher accommodation if required by the community. The schools are built along child-friendly principles with boundary walls, child-friendly latrines and water taps, and creating child-centered classrooms with bigger windows to offer adequate ventilation and natural light, creating a better learning environment for the children. The child-friendly school will encourage parents not only to send their children, especially girls, to school but also to keep them in school in a region where, before the earthquake, only three out of ten girls were enrolled in primary education. The community of Matta Nilishang was involved in identifying the site and consulted at every step of the construction process in this remote, mountainous area where terrain is very difficult.

© UNICEF/PAKA/Bisin
Akia’s current school, following the earthquake, more than 4,000 schools in temporary shelters (tents) have been made functional by UNICEF through the provision of tents, teaching aids, learning materials and teachers

Bringing out-of-school children back to school
In another tented classroom, seven-year-old Sharafat is learning how to read and write for the first time. As is often the case in Pakistan, her parents preferred to keep her at home to support her mother and take care of the daily chores. Sharafat has four sisters and one brother. She has been coming to the school for one month now.

“I love studying here and being with other students”, smiles Sharafat. “I also made new friends. I met Sadia, she is in the same class as me. We walk to school together and we chat so I don’t feel lonely. I know we are going to move to another brand new building soon. Everyone in the village talks about it. We are so proud of it!” “Following the earthquake, we organized door-to-door visits to encourage families to bring their children to school. We also organized meetings with the communities and reactivated the parent-teacher associations that played a key role in bringing children back to school”, says Nazar Hussain Shah, social organizer with Hayat Foundation, a UNICEF partner organization in the region.

Over three school years, UNICEF has been supporting the enrolment in government primary schools of more than 400,000 children in six earthquake-affected districts in the North of Pakistan, including more than 21,000 children – mostly girls - who have never attended school before. About 8,000 schools were destroyed by the earthquake, the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history.

“Before the earthquake, we had 148 students coming to Matta Nilishang Primary School. Now there are more than 226 enrolled for the new school year 2007-2008”, beams Sutan Shah, one of the three teachers in the school.

“I love studying here and being with other students”, smiles Sharafat. “I also made new friends. I met Sadia, she is in the same class as me. We walk to school together and we chat so I don’t feel lonely. I know we are going to move to another brand new building soon. Everyone in the village talks about it. We are so proud of it!”

 

 

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