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A future prison provides educational opportunity for Pakistan’s flood-displaced children

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Youngmeyer
Within the walls of a future prison, flood-displaced boys attend a tent class at Relief Camp No. 1.

By David Youngmeyer

THATTA DISTRICT, SINDH, Pakistan, 26 September 2011 -  Inside the high walls of a prison near Thatta city, children displaced by Pakistan’s recent monsoon floods are enjoying the opportunity to return to class. A prison may seem a surprising place for a relief camp, but this jail is only partially completed, and the large empty, flat space inside the walls make for an ideal location to set up row upon row of tents.

Hope within prison walls

Across Sindh, hundreds of thousands of people are living in relief sites set up where ever there is available space, whether in schools, on vacant land, beside roads, or in at least one case, a district vegetable market.

Around 2,600 people – most of them relocated from severely flooded areas of neighbouring Badin district – are living at ‘Relief Camp No. 1’, inside the walls of the future prison.

Unlike many of the other makeshift relief sites, this camp is planned. It features basic essential services including tent shelters, clean water and toilets.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Youngmeyer
A young boy uses a UNICEF-supplied blackboard to lead fellow students in a group exercise at Relief Camp No. 1.

But what makes the camp particularly important for children like Mukhtiar, 12, is that they are able to continue educations disrupted by the floods.

A new beginning

Mukhtiar is one of more than 260 boys and girls attending two single-sex tent schools at the camp. UNICEF is supporting the camp schools with school supplies including school bags, notebooks, pencils and blackboards. Children have also received Meena books, which cover key social issues including health, water and sanitation, and education. The schools are run by the education department.

After having lost most of his possessions when his family’s home was destroyed and his village badly flooded following severe monsoon rains, Mukhtiar’s school bag means a lot to him. Apart from being a handy way to carry his school supplies, the school bag symbolizes a new beginning, and represents the vital role education plays in a child’s life.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Youngmeyer
Mukhtiar, 12, is happy to be back in class. He is one of more than 260 boys and girls attending two single-sex tent schools at the camp.

Mukhtiar recounted that when the heavy rains came, he and his 12 family members managed to reach an embankment that was safely above the flood waters. They sheltered there until the army transported them to the relief camp a week ago.

“I am very happy to be back in school,” said a smiling Mukhtiar. “I like school. It is important for my future life.”

Plans in motion

A major issue for children’s education following the floods is that more than 11,000 schools have either been damaged, destroyed, or not available for classes, because they have been converted to relief camps. It is estimated that 200,000 school-aged children caught up in the floods disaster are in need of temporary learning services.

Currently, UNICEF has plans in motion to set up as many as 4,000 Temporary Learning Centres in six flood-affected districts, with centres extended to other districts. The centres will include tents, teaching staff, school supplies, and recreation kits.



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