Education in Disaster-Prone Areas
Helping schools & communities face unexpected disasters in Sindh
Ahori Farm, Sindh, Pakistan - 21 January, 2020: “I was still at school when children from my neighborhood came looking for me. My uncle’s daughter had fallen in the nearby water pond. They wanted me to go and save her from drowning,” tells thirteen-year-old Kailash Kumar, a student at the Government Boys High School (GBHS) in Ahori farm, Sindh.
“I knew how to swim and had attended a first aid training at school, so I sought permission from my head master and went along with the children. I immediately jumped into the water pond and took my baby cousin out. She seemed to be unconscious so I performed first aid on her. She threw up water and coughed a little bit, but was able to breath again. Her family quickly took her to the hospital in the city. I am glad I could save her life.”
Located in the sand dunes of the arid region of Thar, Ahori Farm village is a small settlement in the district of Umerkot, home to about 3,000 people. Umerkot was hit by three consecutive years of flood emergencies (2010-2013) and has suffered long spells of drought of two years (2014-15), and the onset of climate change is a constant threat for the residents.
"My uncle’s daughter had fallen in the nearby water pond and I was called to save her from drowning. I knew how to swim and had attended a first aid training at school, so I sought permission from my head master and went. I immediately jumped into the water pond and took my baby cousin out,"
Kailash still remembers the floods, even though he was only five years old at the time.
“I remember,” the boy tells. “There was a lot of rain, and the rainwater took everything with it. We were displaced to a camp. Life there was not the same as it is at home.”
Built out of mud and sand, most houses in the village are damaged each time the seasonal monsoon starts, affecting the livelihoods of many. Some families systematically have to relocate to local school buildings as part of emergency management measures, affecting educational activities.
With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UNICEF is implementing a project to help schools and communities be better prepared to deal with natural or man-made disasters in Sindh.
The project, implemented in close coordination with the provincial education departments, trains community members, teachers and students on how to identify the hazard risks and take appropriate measures to keep safe and reduce the potential damage during a disaster. These include taking precautionary measures, using sand and blankets during accidental fire, prioritizing saving lives, and administering first aid in the event of water related or road accidents.
Jaman Bheel, was among the first teachers at GBHS to attend the training on disaster risk reduction (DRR).
“This whole concept was new to us,” he tells. “We were used to dealing with disasters on our own, which was not very helpful. The new techniques and information I received were very useful. It was particularly interesting to learn that sometimes a timely action is enough to prevent a bigger loss.”
People who participated in the training are encouraged to train more people in turn, so that more members of their community are aware what to do in case of disaster.
Children falling and drowning in ponds remains a fairly common incident in the community. Thanks to Bheel and his wife, a life was saved.
“After attending the training, I trained my wife on how to perform first-aid,” Bheel tells, adding that he never thought that it would one day save their own child’s life.
“A few months ago, our four-year old son Sooraj fell into the water pond while my wife was washing clothes. The water is 12-feet deep so without wasting a minute, she jumped in the water and pulled him out, while also administering first-aid to help him breathe easily.”
“We were used to dealing with disasters on our own, which was not very helpful. The new techniques and information I received were very useful. It was particularly interesting to learn that sometimes a timely action is enough to prevent a bigger loss.”
Bheel says he learnt many practical things during the training, which the community can use in daily life. For instance, he learnt how to avoid the potential hazards of electric short circuits, which can be avoided by unplugging devices before leaving one’s home; the need to fix the many electric wires which were hanging lose at the school, and to build a boundary wall around the building. As a result, community members came together and fixed everything which posed a threat to the safety of children.
“We have all become more aware of our surroundings following this exercise,” Bheel tells.
Approximately 50 schools have benefited from the DRR interventions in four districts of Sindh so far, mobilizing more than 100 teachers, approximately 15000 students (more than 6000 girls) and 2000 community members.
To ensure sustainability, the Reform Support Unit of the School Education and Literacy Department is providing support for project implementation.
“Communities are keenly aware that they need to be more resilient. All districts now ask us to train more teachers and reach more schools, so we work on integrating the best practices in classrooms and lessons,” says Mujeeb Ur Rehman Khatri, Senior Project Manager at the Reform Support Unit.
“Initiatives that bring communities together always yield fruitful results, sometimes unexpected ones. As we worked with community members on the programme, we noticed that people became more interested in sending their children to schools, which is remarkable result,” he adds.