Empowering children to prepare for disasters

Educators in earthquake-affected districts discover a clear appetite among students and community members for practical tips on disaster preparedness and response

Aayush Niroula
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula

16 January 2020

Sindhupalchowk, Nepal – Janak Giri, head teacher at the Mahakali Seti Devi School in Sindhupalchowk District in central Nepal, was pleasantly surprised. He hadn’t expected that his students would be so interested in talking about disasters affecting them and the school.

“We had never before conducted a specific training on the subject in the school, or even in the community,” he says.

Janak had recently taken part in a disaster risk reduction training programme organized as part of the USAID-UNICEF efforts to re-establish education in earthquake-affected districts. During the 2015 earthquakes, more than 47,000 classrooms were damaged or destroyed completely.  The training had been eye-opening, to say the least, and had inspired him to hold informational sessions of his own so as to share with students what he had learned.

These sessions had included safety drills and preparation of ‘disaster calendars’ to mark out high- and low-risk months in a given year for different kinds of disasters, among other components. The school now also has disaster-safety maps for the site and its surrounding areas.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula
UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula

Janak says there was a clear appetite among students for this kind of training. Disaster risk was something the students vaguely knew about but had never discussed. This also meant there were many misconceptions and gaps in knowledge that the sessions were able to debunk and address.

“When we created the disaster calendar, for instance, many students were surprised that earthquake was listed as a danger throughout the year,” Janak says.

A similar experience was reported by Bal Krishna Giri, head teacher at the Gyan Jyoti Adarsha Basic School in the same district. Bal Krishna had also taken part in the same DRR training programme as Janak. He had then gone on to call a meeting of the School Committee Members, teachers, parents and other community members to pass on his learnings.

UNICEF Nepal/2019/ANiroula

During the three-hour session, participants had discussed a range of subjects related to the possibility of disaster, including the sturdiness of the school building and their own homes. Many of the parents, Bal Krishna says, knew of only one way to react in the event of an earthquake: to run outside. The discussions changed that. “We talked about how one should consider the structural integrity of the building, and of the spaces through which one would be passing, before blindly rushing to get out,” he says. “Many parents found this helpful and were able to assess their houses in those terms.” 

When sessions were held for the students at his school, Bal Krishna discovered that despite a chapter on natural disasters being included as part of their academic course, most of the children were unaware of specific risks. Like in Janak’s case, discussing disaster risk in detail in the practical context of their school and homes made all the difference for the students at Gyan Jyoti.

“You could tell it had finally clicked with them,” Bal Krishna says.