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“Back to school” makes “Back to normal” possible

 
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It was a school day with a difference for the students of Kuleshwor Awas Secondary School in Kathmandu today. Although the main gate was closed because of earthquake debris behind it, there was a “welcome to school” sign on the narrow side lane that also led to the school premises. There were two teachers present there who welcomed the students and their parents and guardians with red auspicious tika on their foreheads.

Once inside, the students were ushered away from the roped off quake damaged school buildings. The smaller children were led to two temporary learning centres (TLCs) built with UNICEF support, while the older ones congregated under the shade of trees nearby.

These older children soon started playing football, Frisbee and other games that were included in the “Recreational kits” provided by UNICEF. Laughter and pleasant screams rent through the school grounds.

Nearby in the classrooms with UNICEF tarpaulin roofing and the interlaced bamboo walls, there were different sort of indoor activities going on for the smaller children. Renuka Neupane, started the day with meditation for the primary grade students. “Getting the children to focus on their breathing calms them down and also warms them up for the day ahead,” she says. The children meanwhile sit cross legged, eyes closed and hands stretched in a special mudra. Some fidgety ones peeking from the corner of their eyes to see whether the more ‘fun’ activities would start.

In the other room, there were younger children from the nursery and pre nursery children being fussed over by teachers who were being assisted by early childhood development facilitators. The children were bunched up in corners engrossed in various fun and colourful activities.

Sumani Devkota, a student of Upper KG, was busy making a flower out of interweaving blocks. She said that she was looking forward to coming to school all these days. “I wanted to meet my friend. She’s the one wearing the pick hairband,” she says. Sumani said that her family was getting ready to go to her aunt’s house when the quake struck. “But I was not afraid!”

Her teacher, Sapana Sigdel, however had a different experience. “I was washing dishes in the kitchen when the first quake struck. It was terrifying. We have been living in a tent near our home since then,” she says. “I am so relieved that school has commenced. It finally seems like things are going to be normal!”

The Principal of the school Megh Raj Dulal looked ecstatic to welcome the children back to school. “I am so excited and happy today!” he chimed. “At one point I’d given up hope that this day would arrive.”

Dulal says his family members, including his 6-year-old daughter, are still traumatized by the quake and recurring aftershocks. He explains the reason why he opened the doors of his school today to parents and guardians was because parents are as traumatised as their children. “And when these parents discuss their fears in front of children, and keep dwelling on topics of death and destruction caused by the quake, it imprints the trauma even more in children,” he explains. “That is why I was telling them to dwell on more positive things in their conversation when children are around, and to explain to their children what earthquakes are.”

Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in Nepal, who was present at the reopening of the school in Kuleshwor, while outlining the importance of getting the children back to their normal routine as soon as possible, said, “Evidence shows that children who are out of school for prolonged periods of time after a disaster are increasingly less likely to ever return to the classroom. Education cannot wait.”

All the school children in the earthquake impacted districts of the country might not have gone to school on 31st May, five weeks after the quake, because they might have had a school or a temporary learning centre to go to, or because they were still too traumatised still to leave their families. With over 32000 classrooms destroyed and half that number damaged, it is an uphill task for education to come to normal in Nepal. But the sight of the bright-eyed children in Kuleshwor Awas Secondary School today made it seem that ‘Back to School’ does seem to be the route to ‘Back to Normal.’

 

 

 

 

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