Adolescents taking the lead to protect their schools

Children in local schools receive training on emergency preparedness and safety skills

Fatima Shahryar
Laleena Baseer, who is in 6th grade gives a safety training along with her teachers at Government Girls Middle School in Araq, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Saiyna Bashir

01 February 2019

Swat, Pakistan - 15 January 2019 - “My mother calls me Guloona, which means flowers in Pashto”, says thirteen-year-old Laleena Baseer, a student at the Government Girls Middle School (GGMS) located in the village of Araq in Swat District. “She tells me that I am a source of pride for her and my dad and that they have high hopes for my future. I want to turn their hopes into a reality and make my parents and teachers proud.”

GGMS Araq is one of the 137 schools that were destroyed by various natural and man-made disasters in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province over the past decade.

In October 2005, a massive earthquake hit Pakistan, causing widespread destruction in KP. The earthquake damaged and destroyed 8,000 schools, killing more than 17,000 children and 900 teachers in classrooms. This was followed by devastating floods in 2007, which destroyed countless homes and resulted in the loss of livestock and livelihood, prompting some families to move out of KP. The province, which is located along the border with Afghanistan, has also faced human crisis and security issues in the past decade. This forced nearly three million people to move to other parts of the country or to seek refuge in about 4,000 schools, affecting more than 700,000 students age 3-16 years.

GGMS Araq is one of the 137 schools that were destroyed by various natural and man-made disasters in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province over the past decade.

The Government of Pakistan has now rebuilt all the schools, which were destroyed at the time. Using modern technology, the buildings have been especially designed to sustain the disasters that continue to threaten the survival, wellbeing and rights of students and their families.

To help communities be prepared to face disasters and mitigate their impact, UNICEF supports the Government of Pakistan’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programmes in three provinces, with generous support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“When I first attended the security training, I looked at our facilitator and I knew I wanted to become like her. Being able to help others, to train them on how to handle difficult situations is something I love to do,” says Laleena.

Laleena Baseer, who is in 6th grade gives a safety training along with her teachers at Government Girls Middle School in Araq, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Saiyna Bashir
Laleena Baseer, who is in 6th grade gives a safety training along with her teachers at Government Girls Middle School in Araq, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“If we don’t help one another, who will?”

Laleena

As a member of the committee, Laleena not only regularly attends training sessions, but she informally trains and guides other children in her community, equipping them with knowledge on the essential steps to be followed in case of disaster.

“I have trained my siblings and friends in the neighborhood on emergency preparedness. While some of us pretend to face an emergency, others assume the role of the rescue team. It is fun and we are learning at the same time,” adds Laleena. 

Kausar Mumtaz, who chairs the GGMS Araq Parents Teacher Council, is impressed by her commitment.

“Our community school was destroyed in 2008 and rebuilt in 2015. We all cherish it and have our love and hopes vested in students like Laleena. She is not only a bright star of the school, but has become an active member of our community despite her young age,” she says.

UNICEF and partners have trained committee members and provided them with DRR kits. The trainings focus on hazard mapping, first aid, firefighting and mock drills to develop an effective level of preparedness among teachers, students and communities.

Students perform an earthquake drill being led by Laleena Baseer at Government Girls Middle School in Araq, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Saiyna Bashir
Students perform an earthquake drill being led by Laleena Baseer at Government Girls Middle School in Araq, Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The chief of Education at UNICEF Pakistan, Ellen Van Kalmthout says, “Schools need to be safe places for girls and boys to learn. This requires a concerted effort by the education system and disaster management authorities, and very importantly, at a local level by schools and communities themselves. The ‘Resilient, Informed and Safer Schools and Communities’ project does that: it capacitates communities, teachers and students to understand risks in and around their schools and take action to make schools safer. Moreover, it empowers students such as Laleena to develop confidence and leadership skills. I hope that the proven approach developed with USAID’s support will be extended by the provincial government to all schools.” 

UNICEF has so far trained approximately 68,000 children in 313 schools across the provinces of KP, Sindh and Balochistan. The project is expected to continue until the end of the year 2019, helping more children, parents and teachers contribute to safe and resilient communities.