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2008 Floods in Pakistan



First tent school opened for children living in relief camps

© UNICEF-Pakistan/2005/Bociurkiw
Students inside a UNICEF-supported tent school in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. It's the first to open since a powerful earthquake struck the region

By Michael Bociurkiw

MUZAFFARABAD -- For the first time since a massive earthquake struck northern Pakistan more than two weeks ago, the sound of school children has begun to fill the air of squalid tent enclaves.

Earlier this week the first tent school to go up in Muzaffarabad - a city 90 percent destroyed – opened in a small tent enclave across the street from the destroyed Ministry of Education complex. It serves a community of several dozen extremely impoverished displaced families from urban and mountainous areas.

And in displaced persons camps in the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) one tent school was opened Wednesday, with three more on the way by the weekend. UNICEF supported the schools with five school-in-a-box kits, teacher training, school bags and health and nutrition training.

This is building an educational system from scratch. With thousands of schools flattened, hundreds of teachers killed and a government infrastructure literally flattened by the huge quake.

The few schools that are still standing have been declared dangerous and unusable.

Aid workers say just finding ministry staff to discuss the massive task of rebuilding is a challenge in itself. The bodies of civil servants are still being pulled out of the office ruble and meetings have to take place in an open courtyard.

A tent school across the Ministry building opened Monday and was the first of five to spring up in the 19 tent enclaves in Muzaffarabad.

Parents – already distressed by homelessness – say having their kids in class gives them time to focus on one thing – survival and rebuilding.

“Just providing them with blackboards and chalk, and someone who is there to help them draw and to teach them will help them come out of their fears,” said UNICEF Education Officer Khalida Ahmad.

Since most teachers have either perished, injured or looking after wounded family members UNICEF is turning to college graduates to lead classes. Training and basic supplies are provided.

Said Sabiha, a Grade 11 student who is being trained at the first tent school: “I’m keen to be their teacher because I want these kids to be educated like I am and to give them whatever knowledge I have.”

Tents are so scarce in this region that by day they provide a safe space for learning and playing – and by night shelter for displaced families.

A total of 1740 UNICEF school-in-a-box kits are enroute, with enough supplies in each to cater to 80 kids. More than 139,000 children will benefit from the supplies. Another 300 locally-procured kits were in country at the time of the earthquake and these will benefit 12,000 children. In addition, 100,000 exercise books are on the way to Pakistan.



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