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South Asia earthquake: First tent school opened for children living in relief camps

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
Students inside a UNICEF-supported tent school in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. It's the first to open since a powerful earthquake struck the region nearly three weeks ago.

By Michael Bociurkiw

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 28 October 2005 – For the first time since the powerful earthquake struck northern Pakistan two weeks ago, the sound of school children has begun to fill the air around the temporary shelters for displaced people. Earlier this week, the first tent school opened up in Muzaffarabad – a city 90 per cent destroyed by the disaster.

The tent school is the first step towards rebuilding the educational system from scratch. It is thought that more than 10,000 schools were destroyed and hundreds of teachers were killed. The few schools that are still standing have been declared dangerous and unusable.

Similar tent schools are opening in other camps for displaced people in the region. UNICEF is supplying learning materials such as school-in-a-box kits and school bags, and is training teachers.

Aid workers say it’s a challenge even to find staff from the Ministry of Education to  discuss plans for rebuilding. The Ministry building here was destroyed, and bodies of civil servants are still being pulled out of the rubble. Meetings often have to take place in an open courtyard.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
The first UNICEF-supported tent school in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.

A welcome relief for children and parents

For many distressed parents living in the temporary shelters, having their children in school gives them a chance to focus on survival and rebuilding. The schools provide a place for children to learn and play – a welcome break from the long, monotonous days in the squalid camps.

“Just providing them with blackboards and chalk, and someone who is there to  teach them, will help them come out of their fears,” said UNICEF Education Officer Khalida Ahmad.

Many of the teachers who survived the disaster are either injured or are busy caring for family members who were hurt. Therefore UNICEF is turning to college graduates, or even to students, to lead classes. Sabiha is a Grade 11 student, and she is one of the teachers in training. “I’m keen to be their teacher because I want these kids to be educated like I am, and to give them whatever knowledge I have,” she said.

In coming days, UNICEF will send a total of 1,740 school-in-a-box kits to nearly 140,000 children affected by the earthquake. Some 100,000 exercise books are also on the way to Pakistan.




28 October 2005:
UNICEF’s Martin Dawes reports on the opening of tent schools for children affected by the earthquake in Pakistan.

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