Agents of resilience
In central Nepal, children engaged in mapping and addressing risks in their schools and local areas – trained and empowered through UNICEF-supported programmes – are leading the way to increased community resilience
Lalitpur, Nepal: It’s been a busy time for members of the Eco Club at the Bhassara Secondary School in Lalitpur Metropolitan City in central Nepal, not least for the club’s president, 16-year-old Unika Bajracharya. While the local community had not taken much interest in their activities in the past, that is certainly not the case anymore.
“We used to go door-to-door to ask people to join our programmes,” Unika, currently in the 10th grade, recalls. “But now, they’ll ask us when our next programme is.”
So, what is it that the Eco Club has been doing that has so captured the attention of the community?
Unika, along with 16 other students have been engaged in Child-Centred Risk Mapping (CCRM).
The initiative involves training children to recognize potential risks both in their homes and schools, and to document these by creating maps, posters and other materials. The children also learned to test water quality – an important skill given the high risk of water contamination during the monsoon season.
Unika – who in her earlier years, led a very different life as a Kumari – says she enjoyed the training immensely. “It went beyond what we normally learn in our classrooms and our textbooks,” she says of the CCRM initiative. “It was so interesting and focused on the perspectives of young people.”
Some time later, the students had an opportunity to present their action plans to different stakeholders, including the ward chair, private sector companies and others, to receive their feedback and gain support. This dissemination event was organized by the Business and Community Resilience or BCR project, being implemented by UNICEF – with generous funding support from USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) – in partnership with the Urban Environment Management Society (UEMS) and Lalitpur Metropolitan City (LMC). Bhassara was among four schools presenting their action plans at the event.
Unika is happy with how the interaction went, especially the response from the local government.
“Our ward chair Mr Rajendra Maharjan was very positive throughout and really listened to us,” she says. “After hearing our presentation on the frequency of accidents and different road risks that we face on our way to school, since it is in such a busy location, he immediately asked his team to install speedbreakers in the area.”
“In addition, the ward chair has also gotten CCTV cameras installed at strategic locations along the road to better monitor the traffic situation."
On his part, Rajendra says that it has been a great learning experience for him and his team to have had this interaction with young people. “I’m looking forward to working with them to bring their plans to fruition,” he says, explaining that one way they are taking this forward is by engaging the children with the ward-level disaster risk reduction team to form a rapid response team that can be activated during a crisis.
“I’m so happy to see how committed the children are and their capability to transforming the community and making it a better place.”
Principal at Bhassara, Abha Awale – together with other teachers at the school – has been guiding and supporting the Eco Club members all through their journey. She says couldn’t be more proud of her students.
“It’s so wonderful to witness them learning and growing beyond the walls of the classroom,” she says. “This is a real example of children being changemakers – all they need is the right information, resources and opportunities.”
And this is certainly a sentiment now echoed by many local residents, who have seen firsthand the impact the children’s efforts have made. For Unika, the increasing number of questions she gets from family members and neighbours about the Eco Club’s activities, is a source of great happiness.
“They want to understand more about disaster risks and resilience, and also contribute to our work,” she says. “Having their interest and support like this – it makes us feel like we are doing something right.”
Priti is a Youth Consultant for Climate, Energy and Environment at UNICEF Nepal.