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2008 Floods in Pakistan

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‘I cried when I saw my school covered with water’

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi
Maryam (11) responds to a teacher’s question. The school was damaged in the floods and rehabilitated with UNICEF’s support

By David Youngmeyer


This story is part of a special series highlighting the experiences of Pakistani children and women who were affected by the devastating 2010 monsoon floods that struck Pakistan one year ago.

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.
The four-class room primary school sits right next door to the wide Kabul River. Normally a sleeping giant, the river swelled with the intense monsoon rains, surging onto the land and filling the school with up to three metres of water and half a metre of mud.

“I got scared and ran away when the flood water came into my house,” recalls Maryam. “My family went to stay with friends on higher ground so that we would be safe. “When I came back to the village later, I saw my home was damaged and so was the school. The school was full of mud and the water system was broken.” “It was sad to see things like this. I didn’t know what would happen in the future. It was a very difficult time and I didn’t know whether I could come back to school or go home. Two of my sisters also go to the same school. “I just cried because I thought my family and I wouldn’t be able to return to the village or see all my friends again.”

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.”
Maryam and other volunteer students helped the teachers put the finishing touches on the school, including carrying water for washing, cleaning cupboards and moving in replacement furniture. UNICEF provided school supplies.

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.”
To help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, UNICEF provided hygiene kits, soap, jerry cans and buckets for children and their families, while SSD ran classes teaching students good hygiene practices. Maryam is one of the students in the school hygiene club – made up of students and teachers – which continues to emphasise the importance of good hygiene.

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.”

 


 

 

 



 

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi
Girls play a game in the school yard. When the floods came the school was full of water and mud

 

 

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