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Zakia’s story: Support for education in Pakistan’s earthquake zone

UNICEF Image: Pakistan, Earthquake
© UNICEF video
Zakia Bibi, 10, attends a UNICEF-supported tent school in Pakistan’s earthquake-damaged Battagram District.

By Sabine Dolan

BATTAGRAM, Pakistan, 27 October 2006 – Under the watchful eyes of her mother, Zakia Bibi is getting ready for school, diligently packing her books and folders.

Zakia lives in Battagram, one of Pakistan’s least developed districts, in remote, mountainous North West Frontier Province. The region was devastated by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Pakistan on 8 October 2005.

The shy 10-year-old’s daily routine starts early. “I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and say my prayers,” she says. “I have breakfast and then I meet the other girls on my way to school.”

Difficult living conditions

Zakia’s mother, who never got an education herself, is both proud and supportive of her daughter, the first girl in the family to go to school. She couldn’t afford to send her two elder daughters, who were married at an early age.

Like so many people in the region, Zakia's family is poor and lives under extremely difficult conditions. Last year’s earthquake only made matters worse.

Zakia’s father lost a leg in the disaster and can no longer work. He has not completely recovered from the injury and still requires medical attention. In addition, the family’s house was damaged, and to this day they sleep in a tent at night for fear of another quake.

School access a challenge

Literacy levels in Battagram are low: Only an estimated 6 per cent of girls over the age of 15 are literate. Prior to the earthquake, the net primary school enrolment for boys between five and nine years of age was 45.5 per cent, while enrolment for girls was estimated at just 26 per cent.

UNICEF Image: Pakistan, Earthquake
© UNICEF video
Girls walk to school in Battagram District, Pakistan.

Poverty, local traditions and the isolation of many villages in the district’s mountain communities make school access a challenge. Zakia, for example, must walk for almost an hour along rugged terrain to reach her school – and she’s not alone.

Since the earthquake, a lack of teachers has been another problem. Many educators were killed in the earthquake. In some quake-affected areas even now, teachers must commute from less devastated zones because they cannot find safe local accommodations.

Safe and child-friendly schools

Zakia is enrolled in the government Girls Primary School in the village of Nily Shung. The school building was badly damaged by the quake, so she now attends classes in a UNICEF-supported tent school to make sure her education is not interrupted.

UNICEF and its partners have also been supplying backpacks, books and notebooks, as well as teacher training, to support education for children who lost almost everything in the earthquake.

And in an effort to boost school attendance, UNICEF has worked with teachers and communities to improve the quality of education – ensuring that schools are safe and child-friendly, and children can study in an environment that is conducive to learning.

In class, Zakia and her classmates learn math, science, Urdu and English, among other subjects. The girls here say they’re proud to get an education.

Reclaiming childhood

“For me, studies are important because when I can read and write, I can write letters to my brothers and other family members when they’re away,” says Zakia's classmate Nazia Azeem, 10. “I can also write their phone numbers just in case I have to call them.”

Zakia’s teacher has become her role model. “When I grow up, I want to become a teacher,” she says.

UNICEF has helped re-establish more than 4,000 government primary schools that were badly damaged by the Pakistan earthquake to make sure that affected children – especially girls like Zakia and Nazia – have opportunities to continue their education and reclaim their childhood.




27 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on a typical school day for Zakia Bibi, 10, who lives in Pakistan’s remote Battagram District.
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