The reality of living with climate change
A school in Nepal’s south has made notable strides in reducing disaster risks thanks to the joint efforts of the students, teachers and community
Dhanusha, Nepal: “When I saw the smoke, I didn’t stop to think. I alerted other people from the neighbourhood. Me and my friends, we got everyone to stand in a line and we started passing down buckets of water from the river, dumping them on the fire. A while after we did this, the flames went out.”
Pooja Rimal is describing her experience of a fire she and other young people had stopped from spreading some months ago in her village in Dhanusha District in Nepal’s south. Pooja, a tenth grader at the Shree Mahendra Secondary School, and a member of the school’s child club, attributes her quick thinking and actions during the incident to disaster preparedness trainings she and other child club members had just taken.
“If I hadn’t been trained, I wouldn’t have known what to do,” she says. “Once you learn these things, it’s locked up in your head.”
Fire prevention is just one of the skills that the child club members have acquired through these trainings. “We are also trained in basic first aid and we’ve participated in different drills, like for earthquakes,” explains Rakesh Raut, also a tenth grader at Mahendra and president of the child club. “And we have helped our teachers to find and map the different disaster risks that are affecting the school.”
All these activities followed the school’s integration into the UNICEF-supported Child-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction (CCDRR) Programme. In fact, the child club itself had been formed under the programme’s initiative as a means of engaging children: enabling them to provide their point-of-view and spread knowledge and skills related to disaster risk reduction amongst their peers and communities. One instance of this is how every Friday, the club organizes dramas or quizzes for their schoolmates, often with disaster and resilience as the key themes.
“The children know best what kind of dangers surround them, because they are the ones sitting in these classrooms, and playing on these grounds,” says principal Ram Kumar Mahato. “We must listen to them and work with them to improve school safety.”
Ram Kumar lists the various risks that the school authorities, together with the child club and guardians, managed to identify. The Mithila Municipality, where the school is located, has long been prone to flooding during the monsoon. Following heavy rains, water would often enter the classrooms, wreck furniture and materials, besides raising the risk of snakebites.
“There are also a lot of trees along the perimeter of the grounds, and these could easily have fallen and hurt someone in a strong windstorm,” he says.
Once these hazards, among others, were identified, the school began taking on different mitigation projects. Besides trimming the trees, a large pit behind the main buildings was also cemented and converted into a lily pond, with walls around it for added safety. Water tanks above the toilets were stabilized with cement to prevent them from toppling over.
“We have also installed two doors in each classroom to help in case students need to evacuate,” says Ram Kumar. “And we’ve just received funding support from the Department of Education and the municipality to retrofit three of our rooms that were damaged in the 2015 earthquake.” Classroom floors and parts of the grounds have also been plastered to prevent the entry of snakes into the premises.
That’s not all, however; the school has plans for further improvements in the coming months. Although a dam and makeshift tunnel has been dug to prevent the grounds from being flooded, a more permanent solution is in the offing.
What’s more, following a recent training in local curriculum development, Mahendra will now be incorporating DRR in the school curriculum, right from the Early Childhood Development level.
“Children are living in a world today where the effects of climate change are all around them,” Ram Kumar says. “We need to prepare them to deal with this reality from as early an age as possible.”
Meanwhile, Pooja and Rakesh say they will continue to spread the word about being prepared for disasters to their families and friends, because they feel everyone will benefit from the information.
“Before, my grandmother didn’t take me very seriously when I tried to teach her and the other women in our village who go to cut grass about how to treat a wound,” Pooja says. “But now, she’s much more receptive to the things I tell her. Just the other day, she was listening to a jingle on the radio about disaster risk reduction and she turned to me and said, ‘Look, it’s exactly what you keep telling us!’”