Supporting Girls’ Education in Quake-affected Areas
By Sandra Bisin
Neelum Valley, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, September 2007 – “Freedom: birds should be free”, Ayeasha reads loudly from the black board. “Freedom: birds should be free”, repeats 11 year old Zobia, beaming at Ayesha. Thirteen-year-old Ayesha is the best student in the class. As she goes back to her seat, all girls in the room glance at her with admiration. But just over a year ago, Ayesha was out of school.
“I like my new school so much: there are tap water and latrines, and each morning we sing the national anthem and we lift the flag. I love it!” says Ayesha.
“I had never been in school before”, she recollects. “At Raj Kot’s primary school before, there were no water and no toilets, no privacy for girls either. My father refused to send me to school. We also did not have the money to pay for books and a uniform”. Ayesha’s school in Raj Kot village is located in a conservative area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir north-east of Pakistan, where “purdah”, which limits women and young girls’ mobility outside their home, is the rule.
On 8 October 2005 a powerful earthquake ravaged Ayesha’s village and caused the death of over 73,000 people in northern Pakistan. Raj Kot’s primary school is one of the 8,000 schools that were destroyed by the disaster. In early 2007, a transitional shelter, with a life span of 15 to 20 years, was rebuilt in Raj Kot with support of UNICEF.
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. These transitional shelters are built in high-altitude, harsh weather locations where tents are not a long-term solution. Transitional shelters are therefore a child-friendly mid-term response until permanent schools are built.
“I like my new school so much: there are tap water and latrines, and each morning we sing the national anthem and we lift the flag. I love it!” says Ayesha. “I was happy to study with my father but I felt a bit lonely and I prefer studying at school with other children and a teacher. I like playing games with my friends, skipping rope and hide and seek”, Ayesha adds.
Ayesha’s father is a carpenter. He started teaching Urdu, English and Mathematics to his daughter at home three years ago. “I had to wait till he came back in the evening to study with him. During the daytime, I had to help my mother with the daily chores: cleaning the house, washing the dishes. I had many things to do”. Household chores, such as fetching water, keep many girls out of school. Most other household chores – including garbage disposal – also fall to women and girls. When family members become sick (often due to hygiene-related diseases), girls are more likely to be kept home to care for them.
“One of the main reasons why parents do not send their children to school is poverty”, explains Zulfiqar Ali, a UNICEF Education officer working in earthquake-affected districts. “Buying books and uniforms is considered a heavy expense for parents who struggle to make ends meet.”
“Getting an education is important for Ayesha, so she can be a responsible mother. I would be happy if she can find a job later on”, Misri Khan smiles.“I want to be a teacher when I grow up because I want children in my village to get quality education”, Ayesha smiles.
At Raj Kot’s Government Primary School, there are about 150 students, out of which 69 are girls. Like Ayesha, about 20 children (among them three other girls), that had never been in school before, were enrolled with UNICEF support for the school years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.
Since the earthquake, UNICEF has supported the enrolment in government primary schools of about 464,000 children in six earthquake-affected districts in the North of Pakistan, including more than 36,000 children – mostly girls - who had never attended school before.