Bringing stability to the lives of displaced children in Pakistan
By Alistair Ingi Gretarsson
SWABI, Pakistan, 3 June 2009 – “Over there we couldn’t go to school. Here there is no bombing. Here we aren’t scared,” says Ikram Ullah, 10, sitting in the dusty grounds of Chota Lahore Camp primary school with his two younger sisters, Hinaz and Naseema. “But I miss my school and my school friends.”
Ikram and his entire extended family, including his seven siblings, fled their village of Sinigram in Buner district in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan when the fighting in the region intensified a few weeks ago. Ikram, Hinaz and Naseema are among the 877 students currently enrolled in this primary school, set up with the support of UNICEF, in tents in a cordoned-off area of the Chota Lahore camp.
Women and children
As of 27 May, more than 2.5 million people have been registered as displaced by the current conflict in northern Pakistan. While nearly 200,000 are staying in government-run camps, the large majority, around 2.3 million, are with increasingly over-burdened relatives and friends and in makeshift shelters in schools and other government buildings. UNICEF is focused on ensuring that their right to be educated is not disrupted.
The majority of those who have been displaced by the conflict are women and children and these events have left their mark. “Many of these children have been heavily traumatized by their experiences and all of them have had their lives seriously disrupted,” says Programme Communication Officer for UNICEF in Peshawar, Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani.
Creating a sense of normalcy
UNICEF has supported the establishment of 32 primary schools in 20 official camps for internally displaced people in North-West Frontier Province. Of these, eleven camp schools, including the one in Chota Lahore camp, have been set up during the last month.
Looking to the future
“When we came here there was no school for our children but then we heard about a school that had recently opened in the community,” says Habib Ullah, father of four young children and now in the village of Roshanpura, Swabi.
Mr. Ullah's family lives in one of the government school buildings in the village that have been turned into shelters. He is worried about the future of his children, whom he brought to safety just two weeks ago when they escaped the conflict-affected city of Mingora in the Swat valley.
“Our houses were destroyed and the situation back home was very bad. But I am happy that I managed to get my children and women of the family out safely,” says Mr. Ullah.
More schools needed
In addition to providing school tents and school supplies such as school-in-a-box, school bags and stationery, UNICEF helps to ensure that these schools have teachers by supporting the payment of teachers’ salaries and providing mobility support.
However, with the number of displaced children growing daily, increased funds are urgently needed to set up and support more schools, both within the camps and in host communities.
At the moment, only 22 per cent of UNICEF’s recent appeal has been funded. With $11 million received against $53 million needed, UNICEF requires an additional $41.4 million to help provide the most urgently needed assistance in health and nutrition services, education and child protection.