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In disaster-prone Bangladesh, a UNICEF-supported programme helps children stay in school

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 23 December 2011—Low-lying Bangladesh is one of the countries most affected by climate change, and the people who live in the Chars – small islands created by floods or erosion in the vast Ganges delta—are the most vulnerable of all.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on a programme that is helping Bangladeshi children stay in school during emergencies.  Watch in RealPlayer


Life on Natwarpara Char is extremely difficult. Most families make a living from growing rice or fishing. There is little economic development and few employment opportunities.

“There is no electricity, no services. There are no good schools, people don’t want to live here; there are no real advantages to living in the Char,” said primary school teacher Farida Yasmin.

The one thing people in the Char can rely on are floods.

’Every year there is a flood’

“Every year there is a flood. Some years the floods are worse than others,” said Natwarpara Primary School Principal Mohammad Monwarul Islam Mukta.

© UNICEF video
Students at Natwarpara Primary School learn how to keep themselves safe during emergencies.

He heads a school of about 170 students who, thanks to UNICEF’s support, are all well versed in how to deal with frequent emergencies.

“I was very scared during the floods. There was water everywhere. My whole family was worried. Where would we stay? What would we eat?” said student Farzana Tarafder Nishi.

Fortunately Farzana, 10, who is a star student, had a safe space—her school. It was re-situated and is now able to stay open during emergencies. She did not miss a day of school, even though her village was inundated.

Back on Track

The UNICEF-supported Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition programme, also known as Back on Track, is an innovative programme designed to rebuild education systems, often in countries working to make the transition from crisis to normal development.

The five-year programme is funded by the Government of the Netherlands and the European Commission.

Back on Track also provides comprehensive instruction on disaster risk reduction, so students and teachers know how to stay safe during emergencies. The lessons are laid out in a book published by UNICEF and Save the Children.

© UNICEF video
Boys at Natwarpara Primary School in Bangladesh read 'Tuni's Rooster', a book jointly published by UNICEF and Save the Children, which explains how children can keep themselves safe during emergencies.

“The book is called 'Tuni’s Rooster'. I have learned from it that the school should be on higher ground. There should be a boat to ferry school children and the school should have a proper toilet and tubewell,” said student Tasmia Yasmin Trishti.

Keeping families safe

Children also participate in drama, which reinforces messages on how they can keep themselves and their families safe.

“We also teach from what we have learned in the disaster preparedness training handouts. From that we inform the students and their parents about what to do during disasters. We conduct parents’ meetings. We tell them that their children will be safer here at school,” said Mr. Mukta. 

In the past three years, natural disasters, particularly cyclones, have disrupted the educations of more than 1.5 million children. But recently classes at Natwarpara Primary School have continued as normal.

“Now even after a massive natural disaster we do find school attendance is high. We see that school attendance has not dropped significantly, and teaching systems have not really been affected,” said Director General, Bangladesh Directorate of Primary Education Shyamal Kanti Ghosh.

I want to work for the people here’

Staying in school is vital for Farzana, who hopes to use her talent and her education to make life better in Natwarpara Char.

“I want to be a doctor when I grow up. We don’t have a good doctor in this village so I want to work for the people here,” she said.



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