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Warned means ready: knowledge of the rules of conduct in emergency situations has saved hundreds of children in Azerbaijani school

 GABALA, March 2013  - Earthquake ... Fear, panic, and confusion ... The inability to quickly find your bearing or make the right decisions ... Ignorance often costs human’s health or life.

Children from a small rural school in the Zagatala region of Azerbaijan were hit by a devastating seven-point earthquake in May of last year, but were able to avoid disaster. Tens of buildings were severely damaged, many destroyed, including the village school № 1 in the village of Yeni Suvagil.

Thanks to regular earthquake response training conducted with the children they were prepared to act in an emergency situation. At the time of the earthquake more than two hundred people were inside the school and, due to their training, were able to overcome their fear and panic to escape danger.

Having waited out the powerful earthquake in a safe place, children were able to evacuate from the building in an organized manner in just fifteen minutes and no children were hurt.

"We were having a history class when suddenly [the school] shook violently, - says 16-year-old Tarlan from the school. We were very scared because this was our first time experiencing it.  But despite the fear in the first minute, we immediately recalled all the things we have been taught. "

"We knew that we had to quickly hide under the desk and cover our heads with our hands. We were taught that one should not jump out of the windows during an earthquake, "- adds Aybaniz, a graduate of the school.

Classes to prepare the children for such emergency situations have been conducted in the school for the third year in partnership with a project called "Support for disaster risk reduction in vulnerable communities of Azerbaijan", which is implemented by UNICEF, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan.

The project, funded by the EU, teaches children in the form of games, workshops and practical exercises what kinds of emergencies could occur including natural disasters they may face and what they need to do to protect themselves and others.

According to Aybaniz, after the tremors stopped the boys were able to navigate around and run out of the school in a few minutes without panicking or creating congestion.

The rural school in Yeni Suvagil was among the most active participants in the project, which is being implemented in ten schools in five regions of Azerbaijan - Shamakhi, Sheki, Zagatala, Saatli and Sabirabad. This is one of the few schools in the country where an evacuation plan is developed and children regularly receive training on emergency mass evacuation from their school.

"Practical exercises on evacuation from the school, which we conduct periodically with the students, helped us overcome last year's earthquake without casualties or injuries," - says Gazykhanov Hussein, a Russian language teacher with 30 years of teaching experience.

Along with teachers from other schools participating in the project, Hussein Muellim had special training provided by experts from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Education within the framework of the project.

The project was designed to provide training only in the elementary grades. However, at the insistence of the school administration, the course is held regularly in all grades, from the first to the eleventh.

"Child safety is our main objective. Therefore, the school administration, including the teachers and students, as well as the parents all enthusiastically support the project and treat it with all seriousness, "- said Abdulrahman Soltanov, the School Principal.

He finds the game-type arrangement of the classes offered by UNICEF to be very successful allowing children to easily acquire necessary knowledge and skills for action.

The Zagatala region, located on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountains 372-kilometers to the northwest of Baku, is also susceptible to natural disasters such as landslides and mudflows. That is why a lot of attention is being paid to the training of children and their response to these kinds of natural disasters.

The project focuses also on the psychological state of children who are more prone to stress and fear. Staff psychologist at all schools involved in the project, are undergoing training to work with children who have had a lot of stress as a result of the disaster.

"We have often been taught in school that we should not be afraid. An earthquake is a common occurrence in nature and it can happen again, but we must be ready for this, "- says Aybaniz.

The school’s principal believes that the emotional preparedness of the students is an important consideration when working on the overall preparedness of the students.

"It's always scary to go into a dark room. But if you were warned what to expect in the room, it is much less scary, "- says Abdulrahman Soltanov.

In his view, if the child is advised on a possible emergency situation its sudden occurrence will affect the child's psyche much less.

By working with the younger generation, the most vulnerable in emergencies, UNICEF aims to also develop a civic culture of safe behavior to prevent the kind of incidents that could otherwise be prevented.

Within the framework of the project, the Ministry of Education has already launched a revision of school curriculum to introduce a mandatory disaster risk mitigation and training element in every school. This is designed to teach all children in Azerbaijan how to act in an emergency situation and hopefully protect Azerbaijan's most important resource, its children. 



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