By Sami Malik
BALOCHISTAN, Pakistan, 15 November 2010 – Sitting in her family’s tent, Reshma, 8, proudly shows her mother a textbook she received from the temporary learning centre – or TLC – here in a relief camp located at the Jaffarabad Flour Mill.
Reshma had no exposure to formal education prior to her arrival at this camp for people affected by recent flooding in Pakistan. Now, she is one of the regular students at the TLC, established by the Balochistan Boy Scouts Association (BBSA) with support from UNICEF.
Before the floods, Reshma’s parents lived in Mala Bagan Baba village, near the city of Jhatpat in Jaffarabad district. When the floodwaters came, they had to pack up their five children and flee. Fortunately, the Jaffarabad Flour Mill camp had been set up only 3 km west of their village. Here, they were registered and allocated a tent.
Window of opportunity for education
In the midst of the crisis, Reshma’s parents scarcely could have imagined that this hardship would open a window of opportunity for their children – an opportunity for education. “Our house, village and all belongings have been lost in the floods,” says her mother. “We have come to this camp and our children are happily studying here. The rest we can withstand.”
The Jaffarabad Flour Mill camp is situated between the highway and the railway line that link Balochistan Province to the rest of the country. Almost 7,000 displaced people, most of them children and women, reside in the camp.
UNICEF started supporting the affected population soon after the camp was commissioned in early August. Through its non-governmental partners, UNICEF is providing safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. It has also established child-friendly spaces for recreation and learning activities, and the TLCs for providing basic education. So far, 18 TLCs have been established in the camp, benefiting over 1,300 girls and boys.
Overall, UNICEF has supported a total of about 140 TLCs in the three flood-affected districts of Jaffarabad, Nasirabad and Sibi – and in Quetta, which has not been hit by floods but where some of the flood-affected population is residing in camps. At present, nearly 7,000 boys and girls are enrolled in the TLCs of Balochistan. UNICEF is providing them with ‘School-in-a-Box’ kits, emergency education and recreation kits, water coolers and school furniture.
Students eager to learn
Nadia is one of the teachers hired by the BBSA to work at a camp learning centre. Her own plans to pursue further studies after matriculation were disrupted when the floods displaced her family to the Jaffarabad camp.
“I have 103 students here. These girls are studying Urdu, English and Mathematics. They are eager to learn,” she says. “By seeing other children study, more are becoming attracted to learning for the first time in their lives. Some of them were not going to school in their native village or city, but they are studying here and with a lot of eagerness.”
UNICEF Education Specialist Sanaullah Panezai explains that the TLCs provide benefits that transcend schooling.
“Besides catering to the needs of children whose education was disrupted by the floods,” she says, “TLCs are designed to absorb diversity and uphold inclusiveness.” Ms. Panezai adds that the centres provide opportunities for learning, socializing and recreation – including opportunities for children who were earlier excluded from the education system.