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Out of school in Nepal’s remote villages, children chase leopards instead

By Naresh Newar

With their homes and their schools lost in the devastating 25 April earthquake, children in Nepal pass the time any way they can, while their parents fear for their safety and wonder when school will start again.   

NUWAKOT, Nepal, 11 May 2015 – Standing next to her heavily dilapidated school, 56-year-old Rita Pyakhurel is worried about how to rebuild it, as her students are constantly asking when they can return to their classes.

© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Panday
Samikshya Chalise, 12, Sanjog Chalise, 8, and Shanti Pyakurel, 13, sit inside a destroyed classroom in Shree Kalika Secondary School, in Gerkhutar Village Development Committee, in Nuwakot, Nepal.

As the principal of Shree Kalika Secondary School, where she has worked for more than 20 years, she is still trying to overcome her grief over the death of four of her young students in Ward 5 of Gerkhutar Village Development Committee, 100 km south of Kathmandu. This is one of the worst-affected wards of Nuwakot district, which was hit severely by the 25 April earthquake in Nepal.
In Nuwakot, as of 5 May, nearly 30,000 houses have been completely destroyed, 977 people killed and more than 1,300 injured, according to Nepal Government’s Ministry of Home Affairs. In addition, 140,700 individuals have had their homes damaged.
Once a beautiful hamlet and a prospering place, Gerkhutar has now been reduced to rubble from the heavy destruction.
Children are seen rummaging through the debris searching for things they lost, especially their textbooks, notebooks, diaries and arts and crafts materials.
“I miss my school very much,” says 12-year-old Samikshya Chalise as she sits in her ruined classroom with her younger brother Sanjog, 8.
Sanjog is so fond of going to school that he often brings his sister to the damaged school near the house where they lived.

“We have lost both our home and school,” says the boy. 
At risk 
Just a couple kilometres away, children live in the even more damaged Ward 3, where the sight of the destruction is shocking.

The most pressing issue for the community is the security of their children. As parents are busy finding relief, children are playing in the ruins their school, which is falling apart every day.

© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Lama
A damaged classroom of Shree Secondary School, located at Pipal Bhanjyang, Ward 3, Bhadrakali Village Development Committee of Sindhuli district, Nepal.

“This was my classroom,” says 10-year old Melina Pyakhurel, as she sits on top of a heap of rubble where her school once stood. She misses her books the most, and her textbooks are now under the debris. All she has saved is her pencil.
“Can you help us to build my school?” asks Melina, who lives in a tented camp and is tired of living there. Her family members all spend their days sitting under a tree in the scorching heat and can barely sleep at night for fear of the leopards in the surrounding forest.

The huge forest nearby is frequently in flames, set by community members to scare off the animals. But the fires make the problem worse, since leopards have started entering the neighbourhood.
Without school during the day, children put themselves at more risk, and they are neither afraid of the frequent aftershocks nor the leopards. They are usually the first ones to fetch their goats, tied up near their dilapidated homes.
Shanti Pyakhurel, 8 years old, says, “Our parents are always scared, but we fear nothing.”

The parents, however, have reason to fear.
A leopard was seen lurking nearby during our visit, and the children in a big group started chasing it – again panicking their parents.
“When we are not chasing the leopards, we play with our chickens,” says 8-year old Monica Chalise, who wants to be a teacher when she grows up. 
Trying their best
Despite their difficult situation – homeless and with little food in their tented camps –parents are struggling to protect their children from stress and insecurity.
“Our children are safe, and we try to tell them stories to avoid them running around wildly,” said 30-year-old Ram Pyakhurel, who explains how the earthquake has made them extremely cautious and protective of their children.

© UNICEF Nepal/2015/Panday
Rita Pyakhurel, principal of Shree Kalika Secondary School, stands in front of the destroyed school with her students Shanti, Sanjog and Samikshya.

But Pyakhurel is concerned that lack of school is affecting their regular routine, as most of the children were fond of going to school and now often ask the parents whether they will ever be students again.
“We try to find creative ways to entertain the children, but they are increasingly becoming restless and constantly creating their own ways to pass their time,” says 18-year-old Radhika Pyakhurel. However, she is running out of options due to lack of educational materials and local teachers.
The nearest market to buy school material is a 12-hour walk away, and most parents don’t have time or energy to travel, and no income to buy anything for their children.
“I miss doing my homework and my teachers in school,” says 13-year old Shanti Pyakhurel, who was nearly killed in the earthquake with her four friends as they were doing homework together. Fortunately, they survived by hiding under a bed as the earth shook. Once the shaking stopped, they escaped to open space, just before the house collapsed.
Shanti is worried that it will take a long time to rebuild her school. She is happy to have a school in the open ground, but her teachers are no longer in the village.



UNICEF Photography: After the quake

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