By Tania McBride and Anja Baron
SUKKUR, Pakistan, 13 September 2010 – Over the past several weeks, monsoon floods in Pakistan have displaced millions and destroyed or damaged some 1.8 million homes and over 9,000 schools. The latest UN estimates place the total number of people affected at 20.5 million – including, of course, millions of vulnerable children and women.
Describing the crisis as a “children’s emergency,” UNICEF and its partners have taken steps to provide these children with a safe and supportive environment. To that end, temporary learning and recreational centres are being set up in each camp for people displaced by the floods.
There are now more than 200 such centres across the country, with a total enrolment exceeding 20,000. In addition, 153 static and 22 mobile child-friendly spaces have been established, providing more than 34,000 children with educational and recreational support in flood-affected areas.
‘Critical to their recovery’
At the temporary learning centres, children have the opportunity to learn in a protected environment. Caregivers not only teach the basic primary-school subjects through semi-structured learning but also encourage artistic expression and recreation, which help the children deal with the stress they are under.
Each site is supplied with a School-in-a-Box kit providing essential teaching and learning materials for children in an emergency setting. The primary objective behind the kits is to help re-establish learning as the first step towards the restoration of normal schooling following such an emergency.
Among the children in the temporary learning centre at a camp in Sukkur, located in Sindh province, was Zulifgar, age 4. Like so many of the children here, he left his home in Thul Taluka, northern Sindh, with his parents, three brothers and sister when the Indus River breached its banks in early August. During a recent stop at the camp, however, visitors found him happy to attend school and enthusiastically reciting the alphabet.
It is important to get children into school as soon as possible, as it establishes a sense of normalcy in their lives,” said UNICEF Pakistan Chief of Education Bart Vrolijk. “For Zulifgar and many children in relief camps, the opportunity to come to a temporary learning centre offers a chance to play and learn and just be children in a safe and protective environment. This is critical to their recovery.”
A moment to forget
Zulifgar and his classmates were equipped with small emergency school bags containing books, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and a chalkboard. For many who have never before attended school, this is the first time they have owned such possessions.
Once Zulifgar was shown how to hold a pencil, he quickly demonstrated a penchant for drawing. He started with a fish and then moved onto drawing the national flag of Pakistan, calling to the teacher, “Look at this!”
Next to him, a classmate learned how to sharpen her pencil for the first time, while another small group of children built cars and trucks with the connecting blocks that also came as part of the School-in-a-Box.
The teacher leaned down and congratulated Zulifgar on his work. The young boy was thrilled and declared, “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher.”