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Education provides a future for children in earthquake-affected Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/2009/Pittenger
Fourth-grader Zeenat Ghutam (right) and fifth-grader Iqura Rehman arrive at Mohajir Colony Government Girls’ School in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. With UNICEF support, the school was ‘built back better’ after the earthquake that struck the region in 2005.

By Jasmine Pittenger

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 5 November 2009 – The earthquake that devastated this region in 2005 was a catastrophe for schoolchildren in Pakistan. An estimated 17,000 students were killed in their classrooms, and 6,000 schools damaged or destroyed.

For teachers and students, the events of that October morning are burned into their memories.

“We were taking our tests when everything started shaking,” recalls Iqura Rehman, 10. “The teacher said, ‘Run,’ so we ran. We weren’t able to understand what was happening.... We thought that everything was finished.”

UNICEF supplied a temporary school in a tent was pitched amidst the destruction. Within a month, classes resumed. Still, parents hesitated to send their children to school.

“So many children lost their lives in schools, it was not easy to convince parents to send them back,” says teacher Nabila Kiani. “We teachers went from house-to-house to ask parents to send their children back to school.”

The new school

Now, with help from UNICEF, girls in a quake-affected migrant village have a new school. The Mohajir Colony Government Girls’ School is one of 100 schools built by UNICEF as of last month, with 186 more due to be completed by the end of 2010.

Nearly every day during the school's construction, young girls would travel down the narrow path to peek into a window and imagine what was to come.

“When they were building our new school, we were already happy and excited,” says fourth-grader Zeenat Ghutam, 10. “We knew it was for us, but we weren’t expecting it to be so beautiful. On the first day of school, a month ago, I had a feeling I don’t have words for. How can I explain what it’s like to walk into a school that’s more beautiful than our own homes?”

Important role for teachers

Rehabilitation became an opportunity to ‘build back better.’ This means that the 286 new schools being built with UNICEF support are earthquake-safe.

“We’re not scared now because this is a new building, not like our old school, and we know it’s earthquake-safe,” says fourth-grader Shazia Ali Lone.

Teachers have played an important role in helping the government, with UNICEF assistance, to re-enrol about 428,000 children, including over 186,000 girls. The enrolment drive includes 36,000 children who were out of school prior to the earthquake.

“My mother helps me with my homework,” says Zeenat. “She can only do this because she went to school. To educate a girl is to educate a whole family. We know that women doctors are much needed in our country.”

Building a stable future

The new schools are spacious, with at least one square metre of classroom space per child. They promote good hygiene through sanitary toilets and handwashing stations. Teachers are trained in child-friendly methods to support and empower children and are prohibited from using corporal punishment. 
School tents and emergency supplies such as School-in-a-Box kits, blackboards, recreational kits, furniture and textbooks were also provided.

“Educated women are far more likely to have educated children,” says UNICEF Deputy Representative in Pakistan Luc Chauvin. “Women with active voices in their family's economic lives are better at ensuring that the family’s resources go toward building a more stable future. We also know that women with at least a basic education are proven to have fewer, healthier and better-nourished children.”



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