By Tahira Sharafat
RAHIM YAR KHAN,Pakistan, 30 August 2010 – Millions of children have been devastated by the disastrous floods in Pakistan. They have lost homes and possessions and have been forced to relocate to temporary accommodations.
But the crisis has also brought opportunity.
Saima, 10, is going to school for the first time. In just 12 days she has learned how to count and read the alphabet. She has begun to write and is memorizing poems.
Saima lives in Rahim Yar Khan district in Pakistan’s Punjab province, where some 8 million people have been affected by the floods. The district government has established 30 relief camps and 13 tent villages to shelter desperate families.
Saima’s family came to the camp 10 days ago. The bright-eyed girl is the is the youngest of six children. Her father is hearing impaired and her three brothers used to go to school back in their village. But she was forced to stay home and help her mother because her grandfather refused to allow her to be educated.
More than 12,000 children in the flood-stricken provinces have been given the opportunity to continue education at 73 Temporary Learning and Recreation Centres established with UNICEF’s support.
Officials estimate that 11,000 schools have been destroyed by the floods. More than 6,000 others are being used as shelter for the more than one million people displaced throughout the country. Temporary school structures are helping to ensure that school-aged children among the affected population do not miss out on class until their permanent schools are reconstructed.
Safety and support
UNICEF provides School-in-a-Box and recreational kits with games and sports equipment to facilitate the re-opening of classes. The temporary schools are also supplied with seating mats, blackboards and stationery.
Children are provided a safe and supportive environment while parents work to re-build their lives. In the education centres, girls and boys also get the opportunity to play and learn in a protected environment with caregivers, who assist them in addressing issues such as gender-based violence cope with the effects of the flood.
Saima is just one of thousands of children whose lives have changed forever by this disaster. But UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure that the change is ultimately for the better.
“It’s my lifetime dream coming true,” said Saima about her first time at school. “Please ask my mother to promise that she will let me continue my school when we go back home.”