With UNICEF support, school goes on in earthquake affected areas of Balochistan
By Fatima Raja
KILI AHMEDUL SIRKI, Balochistan Province, February 2009 – "When the earthquake struck it was like doomsday," recalls Haji Abdul Razzaq, a school teacher in remote Pishin District of Pakistan's Balochistan Province. He wraps his shawl tightly around him in the cold, clear winter air of this barren, mountainous region. "People were running everywhere. Our school fell down and turned into a ruin."
At four o'clock in the morning on 29 October 2009, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck north-western districts of Balochistan Province. About 68,000 people were affected and 85 per cent of schools were wholly or partially destroyed, affecting 13,580 primary school aged children in three most affected districts: Pishin, Ziarat and Harnai. School attendance dropped to less than five per cent.
Balochistan Province as a whole has low education indicators and serious interruptions, such as that caused by the earthquake, heighten the risk of children dropping out.
To prevent this, and to provide children with safe learning spaces where the routine of school could help restore a sense of normalcy, UNICEF established 73 temporary learning centres, with winterised tents, for children in Ziarat (44), Pishin (20) and Harnai (9) Districts, enabling nearly 4,950 children to continue their primary education. In Ziarat, the worst affected district, temporary learning centres were established for the 44 most damaged schools. School-in-a-Box kits provided all the equipment needed to restart classes, and each centre also receives recreational kit with games and sports equipment. UNICEF also provides teachers at the temporary learning centres with special training and honoraria. In total, 4,950 children, including nearly 2,150 girls, are expected to have continued access to education and recreation and 117 school teachers (64 females and 53 males) have been engaged to facilitate learning and recreational activities.
Ehsanullah is one of the students benefiting from the temporary learning centres in Kili Ahmedul Sirki. “Our school collapsed in the earthquake and we didn’t have any exams," he says, referring to the annual examination originally scheduled for December. "Then we got a tent and erected it to make a school."
While the original school in Kili Ahmedon Sirki is reconstructed, Ehsanullah and his friends are pleased that they have a way to continue their education. "Now I come to school and learn my lesson and learn some Urdu," he says enthusiastically. "I am happy.” About 145 students (115 boys and 30 girls), are registered at the boys' school here, and Haji Abdul Razzaq and his fellow teachers have requested two additional tents to accommodate the demand.
The Temporary Learning Centres help to create a sense of stability for children traumatised by the terrible destruction of October 2008. “These centres are being set up in those areas where previously there used to be schools for these children. Since schools have been destroyed and these children are vulnerable, temporary centres help children to assemble in one place and provide them learning and recreational activities," says UNICEF Education Officer, Sanaullah Panezai. "In these centres, children learn from the teacher and from each other by sharing their experiences."
As the long process of rebuilding damaged schools continues, the boys and girls of Kili Ahmedon Sirki have now embarked upon the next year's coursework. Thanks to the temporary learning centres and the dedicated teachers who run them, the children affected by the 2008 earthquake in Balochistan are able to continue their education in a safe and supportive environment.