‘I cried when I saw my school covered with water’
By David Youngmeyer
Nowshera, Pakistan. – When the floods came to the village of Kheshgi Bala, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, in north-west Pakistan in July last year, 11-year-old Maryam’s school was in the front lines.
While her family, including four younger siblings, were displaced, Maryam says that she used to climb a hill near her temporary home from where she could see her school. She kept wondering whether she would be able to return to her school.
Maryam’s school, known officially as Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School, was one of the worst hit in the district. The water and mud washed away the water pump and blocked the well, water tank and toilets. Classroom furniture, school records, a boundary wall and water pipes were destroyed or unusable. Classrooms were filled with thick sludge. But unlike neighbouring mud houses, which were washed away, the school’s concrete structure remained intact. After about a month Maryam’s home was rebuilt and she was able to return to the village with her family. When the summer vacation was over, Maryam and her classmates continued classes in a temporary open-air space as the school was still out of action.
UNICEF worked closely with Government and partner NGOs to assess the humanitarian needs in 12 districts of KP and other flood-affected areas, to provide immediate emergency assistance. UNICEF and its implementing partner, the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD), quickly started to assess damaged schools in eight union councils of Nowshera District, one of the worst-affected districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where more than 71,000 households were affected out of an estimated 4.4 million people across the province.
Across the country, UNICEF worked with more than 100 partners to address water, sanitation and hygiene issues. UNICEF’s integrated water, sanitation and hygiene promotion package reached 140,000 children in 1,530 permanent schools and temporary learning centres.
It took about a month to clear away the sludge from Maryam’s school, rehabilitate and upgrade the school’s water and sanitation facilities, and repaint walls. A new tank and water pump for drinking water, and taps for students to wash their hands were installed.
“We are very grateful to UNICEF for their help,” says teacher Gul Seyab. “The old facilities have been improved and the school is in a much better condition now.”
Says Maryam: “I was so happy to be able to help clean up the school and make it look nice. It was like I was decorating my own house.”
Maryam says that she is very pleased to be back at her old school again with her two sisters: “I have the same teachers and students here, and I am back into my routine.” And her dream for the future? “I want to be a doctor so I can help people who are sick.”