Rebuilding schools destroyed by floods in southwest Pakistan
By Fatima Raja
DAT VILLAGE, Balochistan, September 2007 – The sound of children chanting echoes in the quiet brown hills around the shattered village of Dat. It is early morning and students are still making their way to school, blue satchels slung over their shoulders, to join in the chorus. Class has not yet begun, but the boys are reciting the alphabet and the girls counting to 50, each group trying to drown out the other. The competition is fierce.
"Our house was in the valley. It had one stone room. It was washed away," Halima says. "Our school was next to our house. You can't even tell where it was."
Through the doorway of the one-room girls' schoolhouse seven-year-old Halima's eyes gleam with mischief as she counts energetically: "Forty-eight! Forty-nine! Fifty!" An older student, who is conducting the chorus in the teacher's absence, grins with pleasure at her enthusiasm.
Later, Halima brings out her exercise book. It is inscribed with carefully formed English and Urdu letters. “I like to practice on my slate after school,” she says with an infectious smile.
In July 2007, the floodwaters destroyed Halima's home. They burst from between two hillsides, a great gush rising ten metres high. As her family and friends watched, the waters washed away their mud houses, their livestock and crops, and their belongings. It took only twenty minutes. "Our house was in the valley. It had one stone room. It was washed away," Halima says. "Our school was next to our house. You can't even tell where it was."
The July 2007 floods completely destroyed 216 schools and badly disrupted activities at 1,169 schools in Balochistan Province, where only a quarter of children attend primary school at all. By quickly rebuilding schools and providing the supplies that were lost in the floods – or were never available at all – UNICEF hopes to help keep these children in school. Indeed, by improving schooling and providing school supplies to boys and girls alike, they hope to increase enrolment by 10 per cent. A single School-in-a-Box kit provides teaching materials and school supplies for 80 children and one teacher for a period of three months, at a cost of $US 120.
As the sun rises higher over the dusty hills, the girls run outside for recess into a flat patch of ground bordered by the main road. With them go the contents of the recreation box. Immediately, one group sets up wickets to play cricket. Halima likes to play football, but today she watches from the sidelines, meditatively tossing and catching coloured pebbles.