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UNICEF-constructed schools are inaugurated in earthquake-affected Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

By A. Sami Malik

GARI HABIBULLAH, Pakistan, 22 June 2012 – Eleven-year-old Khadija Riaz recalls the earthquake that devastated north-western Pakistan in 2005. She was then a second grade student in the mosque school of Paksayr Village, not far from the town of Gari Habibullah in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

3 April 2012: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the inauguration of earthquake-resistant schools in north-western Pakistan.  Watch in RealPlayer


“When the earthquake hit, we were sitting in the open behind the mosque – there was no school in our village. The school in Gari Habibullah was completely destroyed. My cousin Sadia died in it. My house, and many other houses in our village, collapsed,” she said.

Khadija is now a fifth grade student in the Gari Habibullah Government Primary School (GPS), for which a state-of-the-art seismic resistant building has been constructed by UNICEF. It is one of 55 schools built with help from the Australian Agency for Development (AusAid), the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (EKN), the European Union (EU) and the Canadian International Development Agency.

“For one year [after the quake], we studied on our own till a tent was put up to be our school,” Khadija said. “Studying in the tent was difficult. In summers it would get too hot and in winters too cold. Now, we have such a beautiful school building.”

Inaugurating new schools

The inauguration of all 55 schools took place recently, a special occasion not only for the students but also for the entire community. Students rushed to the Gari Habibullah school dressed in their finest clothes, ready to perform skits they had prepared for the occasion. Inside, faculty members were busy putting final touches on the arrangements.

UNICEF invited the High Commissioner of Australia Timothy George and the Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the Netherlands Sander Janssen as special guests. They were welcomed by UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Dan Rohrmann, as well as representatives of the federal and provincial governments, parents, teachers, children and local community leaders.

© UNICEFPakistan/2012/Zaidi
High Commisioner of Australia Timothy George, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the Netherlands Sander Janssen and UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Dan Rohrmann cut the ribbon on a board displaying images of the 55 UNICEF-constructed schools in north-western Pakistan.

After unveiling the inauguration plaque and cutting the ribbon, Mr. George, Mr. Janssen and Mr. Rohrmann were briefed on the schools’ embrace of child-friendly schooling, an educational framework that promotes inclusiveness, gender-sensitivity and child rights. They were also informed about the schools’ disaster risk management planning, which will ensure students are safely and quickly evacuated in the event of a disaster.

Partners invest in the future

“Education is an investment in the future of individuals, communities and the nation,” said Mr. George. “Australia is proud to be supporting UNICEF’s work, in partnership with the Government of Pakistan, to reconstruct 149 schools, therefore providing thousands of children a safe space in which to continue, or in some cases commence, their education… This very fine building and the enthusiasm of the students and teachers is a cause for real optimism.”

The Mr. Janssen emphasized the need for quality education. “In any society, children are the future. These new schools in the earthquake-affected regions are an asset... It is now up to the provincial government to make sure that these new schools are properly maintained and that they continue providing quality education,” he said.

High Commissioner of Australia Timothy George looks at a notebook in the newly constructed Gari Habibullah Government Primary School in north-western Pakistan.

To date, UNICEF has completed 681 schools of the 705 that it had pledged to build in the earthquake-affected regions of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. More than 65,000 children are enrolled in these schools, many of whom had never before been to school.

“With the invaluable support of the Australian Agency for International Development and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with ERRA [the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority], PERRA [the Provincial Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority], KP Education Department and a host of other partners, we have managed to come a long way in support of the ‘build back better’ initiative of the Government of Pakistan,” said Mr. Rohrmann.

“These new schools provide equitable access to education and, combined with the child-friendly schools and learning environments, children will be exposed to a more interactive and empowering learning environment. With the added elements of health and hygiene, clean drinking water, and improved sanitation, parents, teachers and community members have a unique opportunity to ensure that every child of school-going age is enrolled and does not drop out,” he said.



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