Pakistan flood crisis, one year on
Children and families continue to cope – and rebuild their lives – a year after devastating monsoon floods struck Pakistan. This is one in a series of stories on their situation, one year on.
By A. Sami Malik
PUNJAB, Pakistan, 3 August 2011 – “Before the floods, this village had a one-room Masjid [mosque] school. Most of the children sat under a tree. We now have this beautiful school, and the children love it,” says Mukhtar Ahmad, Headmaster of the Government Primary School in Mullanwala village, located in the Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan’s Punjab Province.
“The floodwater took everything away from us, but gave our children the opportunity for better education,” he adds.
Last year’s unprecedented floods in Pakistan forced the bulk of the population in Mullanwala to relocate to safer areas. When the floodwaters receded and people returned, they discovered that not a single structure in the village was standing – not even the one-room Masjid school.
As Mullanwala’s residents started to rebuild, UNICEF and its implementing partner, the Jahandad Society for Community Development (JSCD), established a temporary learning centre, or TLC, in a tent in the village. The Punjab Education Department granted the TLC status as a Government Primary School, and enrolment soon exceeded 200.
Now, a year after the floods, the TLC has turned into a transitional school housed in semi-permanent buildings. As part of its initiative to quickly improve education facilities for flood-affected children in Pakistan, UNICEF plans the construction of 500 such transitional schools by December 2011. Indeed, the process is already under way.
The transitional school in Mullanwala has all the essentials, including safe drinking water and sanitation, school supplies and learning materials. Its teachers use a ‘child-friendly’ approach to schooling that takes the needs of the whole child into account – including needs for protection, recreation, safe water and sanitation, and more.
Promoted by UNICEF and the Government of Punjab, this approach has resulted in a substantial increase in enrolment. The Mullanwala Government Primary School now has more than 360 students, many of whom had never been to a proper school before the floods.
‘We thank UNICEF’
Shahbaz, 11, a third-grade student, is one of them. Having received his early informal education in the Masjid school, he was first exposed to formal education in the UNICEF-supported Mullanwala TLC.
“Before the floods, I used to go to a one-room school,” recalls Shahbaz.
“When the floods came, we moved to high ground in Muzaffargarh. When we returned after the floods, our school had been destroyed. Then we got a tent school, books, bags and everything else. Later, they made us this school building.”
Shahbaz adds: “We are getting a good education and we are very happy. We thank UNICEF for this.”
‘The hub of learning’
JSCD Project Coordinator Hina Farooq has been involved with the transitional schools project since September 2010. She’s proud of what has been achieved.
“Mullanwala Government Primary School is more than just a primary school. It is the hub of learning. With UNICEF’s support, we have introduced the concept of ‘child-friendly schooling’ to students, teachers and community members,” says Ms. Farooq.
“Teaching without corporal punishment is something new in this environment,” she notes. “Since children don’t get beaten up in school, parents are also learning that physical punishment is detrimental to a child’s upbringing.”
Prototype of success
Ms. Farooq explains that early childhood education at the Mullanwala transitional school prepares children from three to five years of age for formal education. Youth groups composed of adolescent boys and girls help out with school management and encourage parents in Mullanwala and surrounding villages to send their primary school-age children to school, she says.
UNICEF Education Officer Yasir Arafat considers the Mullanwala school a true prototype.
“This school is a great example to be replicated in other flood-affected areas,” he says. “It has motivated the entire community towards education. The increase in enrolment has convinced us to build two more rooms here. Work on these will be starting shortly.”
Mr. Arafat says the provincial Education Department has also appointed another teacher to work at the transitional school in Mullanwala.