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After floods and conflict, schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley welcome children back

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA, Pakistan, 21 January 2011 – As farmers busily work in their fields in the beautiful Swat Valley village of Sheen Patay – located in Pakistan’s troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where both conflict and floods have taken a toll – students excitedly rush to the newly renovated Government Girls’ Primary School.

VIDEO: 10 January 2011 - UNICEF correspodent Priyanka Pruthi reports on a rehabilitation campaign that's giving the education system in Pakistan's Swat Valley a new lease on life.  Watch in RealPlayer


Despite the biting cold outside, a freshly painted classroom inside the school exudes warmth and happiness. The girls in the class recite an English lesson with their teacher, Mussarat Afzal.

“During conflict, the school building was damaged and parents were scared to send their girls to school. I kept my school open, but the situation was very bad and enrolment dropped sharply,” says Ms. Afzal.

‘Welcome to School’ campaign

“Today is a special day,” she adds. “It is the first day after nearly two years that we are taking lesson inside the building. It was getting too cold for children to sit outside.”

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Jameel
Students at the Government Girls' Primary School in Sheen Patay, located in Pakistan's Swat Valley, attend a class in the newly renovated school building.

On the same day that classes resume in the school, members of its Parent-Teacher Council (PTC) are meeting with female social mobilizers from the Human Resource Development Society, a non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner in the ‘Welcome to School’ campaign here.

Initiated in 2009 in Malakand Division, the campaign seeks to boost Malakand’s dilapidated government education system. That system suffered miserably from years of insurgency and ensuing military operations, and – most recently – from the devastating monsoon floods of July 2010.

Increasing girls’ enrolment

The purpose of the PTC meeting is to involve the local community, especially mothers, in increasing girls’ enrolment.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Jameel
Musarrat Afzal, head teacher at the Government Girls' Primary School in Sheen Patay, Pakistan, gives an English Lesson.

“We were very sad that the school was damaged and girls could not come,” says Dilshad Begum, a mother of nine children and chair of the PTC. Her youngest daughter, Isharat Bibi, 11, is a fourth-grade student at the school.

“Today is a happy day as the building is functional again, and in the cold weather the children can sit inside and take classes. I am not educated, and life has been very hard me. I want my daughter to study for a prosperous future,” notes Ms. Begum.

Education a top priority

“I was very sad when, during conflict, our school was shut down,” recalls student Anmol Javed, 13. “Then during floods, our school was closed again.”

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Jameel
Fifth-grade student Anmol Javed takes notes in a freshly painted classroom at the Government Girls' Primary School in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

UNICEF fully understands that to bring normalcy to Swat Valley villages like Sheen Patay, restoring education is a top priority. So far, more than 1,000 conflict- and flood-affected government primary schools in the area have benefitted from the ‘Welcome to School’ initiative, and almost 900 PTCs have been established. Besides training teachers and PTC members, UNICEF has also supported numerous community events to increase enrolment.

These efforts help to ensure continuity in learning and teaching, and provide safe spaces for thousands of children, teachers and other community members who have endured psycho-social distress.

“Now,” says Anmol, “it is much better.”



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