Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
29 May 2015: Last week, education policymakers, experts and activists met in Incheon, Korea, for the 2015 World Education Forum (WEF).
It was at this meeting that education ministers from more than 100 countries agreed on a future education agenda that is truly ambitious. It is also an agenda that includes important statements on gender equality that have the potential to transform the lives of girls around the world, both in and out of school.
Plan International was in Korea during the WEF, working to place the unique experiences and needs of adolescent girls at the heart of the decision-making process.
In particular, Plan’s lobbying efforts helped to influence and strengthen key statements on gender equality and participation including:
- Recognising the importance of gender equality in achieving the right to education, including a commitment to supporting gender-sensitive policies, planning and learning environments.
This is significant because girls – especially those from marginalised groups – face additional, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination in their everyday lives, and they require education systems that work to address, and actively challenge, that discrimination at all levels.
- Defining ‘quality education’ as being delivered in safe, supportive and secure learning environments, free from violence including school-related gender-based violence.
Plan’s own research has shown the real cost of gender-based violence in and around schools, particularly for girls, so it is encouraging to see leaders recognise school-related gender-based violence as a barrier to education that requires urgent action.
- Agreeing to uphold the right to participation of all stakeholders in education governance processes.
Plan champions the full and meaningful participation of children and young people in all its work, and our efforts at WEF were no different. Indeed, part of Plan’s delegation to WEF included adolescent girl advocates from Pakistan and the Philippines. Read an interview with the girls here.
Beyond that, we wanted to ensure that the voices of children and youth (particularly adolescent girls and those from other marginalised groups), as well as families and communities are heard in the planning, delivery and monitoring of the education agenda.
This will help ensure that education systems are more democratic, transparent and accountable, and as the agenda gets implemented in the months ahead, we expect to see all stakeholders, including children and young people, central to education governance processes.
What happens next?
Our work doesn’t stop at WEF.
The education agenda approved in Korea will form one part of the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by leaders at the UN in New York this September.
Plan will continue to advocate with and for adolescent girls around the world in order to guarantee the global goals recognise and respect the rights of girls everywhere to learn, lead, decide, and thrive.
Vote #Girl4President on social media to keep girls at the heart of the development agenda.
Check out the Millennium Children video made by young people from 6 different countries on the topic of gender-based violence in schools.
May 2015: When Motorola’s Martin Cooper made the first cellphone call way back in 1973, he knew he was onto something big, but he couldn’t have known how important mobile phone technology would become. Today, ICT is making a huge contribution to the development of societies around the world.
There are billions of cellphones, found in the pockets of people everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and they form an integral part of the daily lives of many of us. So it should come as no surprise with these amazing advances in technology and such wide-reaching networks that the humble mobile phone has come to play a vital role in development.
Mobile phone operators have massive networks that reach vast areas in pretty much every country you can think of. They are natural private sector partners for organisations like Plan International when it comes to development. They have technology, reach and knowledge that, more often than not, we can only dream of.
Not in the picture
Putting all this together, mobile phone operators can help us with a problem: More than 100 countries around the world have inefficient systems in place for registering key life events, like births, marriages and deaths. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s huge. Those governments don’t have reliable data on issues like why newborn babies and mothers are dying or where there are diseases or where they need to build school or health centres.
Not only that, but we live in a world in which these inefficient systems have left 230 million children unregistered and effectively invisible in the eyes of their governments. Being invisible leaves them vulnerable and can make it more difficult to obtain the legal identity that makes education, healthcare, work and travel much more straightforward.
The root of these problems lies in the fact that the systems many of these countries have in place are dated, inefficient and weighed down in bureaucratic, paper-heavy processes. For example, when a baby is born, how does a mother who lives out in the hills in a remote village register the birth? Even if the birth takes place in a local medical facility, how is the paperwork going to get from A to B and maybe even to C before it ends up in the national database?
Hopefully you can see where digitising these systems can help. Simplifying processes and making them more efficient benefits everyone, from the individual through to the government responsible for that individual. A mobile phone can record a birth and send that data to a registration centre where it is recorded and put into a system, giving the government real-time info on what’s happening and where.
Digital technology, when used as part of a complete system for registering key life events, streamlines processes, improves data quality and helps boost registration rates. Health workers need only be given phones, software and basic training before they can begin using them to record data.
Know the risks
But before we get carried away with all the benefits this technology can bring, it’s important to recognise that there are some risks that need to be addressed.
We live in an age of big data and if recent events in the news have taught us anything, it’s that it’s vital that people’s personal data is protected. Data can fall into the wrong hands and be misused while flaws in the design of systems can open the doors to child protection risks. There are many issues to think about, such as identity theft, privacy violations, targeted oppression based on personal characteristics, exploitation by registration agents, and exclusion from the benefits of birth registration if systems aren’t designed to meet the needs of already marginalised groups.
If it sounds scary it’s because it can be – if precautions aren’t taken. This is why it’s vital that mitigating these risks be incorporated into the building of such systems. Governments, development partners, civil society, mobile phone operators and more need to take note of these risks. The benefits to digitisation are enormous and the risks can be avoided with a little coordinated, forward planning.
Digital birth registration tool
That’s why we at Plan International have put together a tool for identifying and addressing risks to children in digital birth registration systems. This tool breaks down exactly how digital technologies can support and strengthen birth registration systems, what the risks are and how they can be planned for and avoided.
We want this to be as accessible for people as possible so that it can be widely used. The tool itself is a detailed checklist of what to take into consideration. Do potential implementing partners have a clear mission and high ethical and data protection standards? Is the population generally aware of the risks of digital information sharing? Are relevant laws and regulations effectively enforced?
We have a lot of experience working with governments and partners on birth registration programmes as part of the wider field of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS). Since 2005, we have helped register 40 million children around the world with activities in 36 programme countries.
Our big push now is for the digitisation of these systems and we have programmes starting in places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Kenya. We are also leading a taskforce to develop a Guidebook on CRVS Digitisation in Africa, which will complement the tool and other existing literature.
Plan’s research has shown that context is critical: a one-size-fits-all approach to developing digital CRVS systems isn’t going to get the job done. Each country has its own set of needs and circumstances that must be taken into account if we are going to truly count every child and make sure they are protected while we do so.
Technology can help us achieve our development goals and, ultimately, end poverty and protect the rights of every child, woman and man. We want to encourage everyone to reflect on the last 40 or so years since that first cellphone call was made as we look to the future and all that we will be able to achieve together over the next 4 decades.
Download the Digital birth registration tool
Read about Plan's birth registration work
Sajita, age 6, is one of 1,200 children benefiting from Plan's child-friendly spaces which have been set up after the earthquake on 25 April.
Child-friendly spaces provide safe areas where children can play, learn and recover from the disaster.
The earthquake caused widespread devastation - leaving many families homeless and in need of support.
Children living in a tent. Plan's emergency response has included providing food, water and shelter.
Boys playing in one of Plan's child-friendly spaces.
One month on since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal and Plan International emergency teams have reached more than 147,800 children and adults with vital aid – including food, water and shelter. Here, Plan’s Adam Cathro blogs on the emotional impact on children and how child-friendly spaces are supporting their recovery.
“It was a horrifying moment for me. I was so scared and holding my mother tightly,” says 6-year-old Sajita, as she remembers the earthquake.
Even for adults, it’s tough to comprehend the sheer terror of the powerful tremors that rocked Nepal on 25 April – and again on 12 May. But it’s even tougher for children caught up in the twin earthquakes and their aftermath. Children, particularly young children, can find it difficult to understand what is going on when the ground shakes and their parents grab their hands and run.
And even though older children understand what “earthquake” means, kids of all ages experience great fear.
Says 11-year-old Ajay: “I was on the way home when the earthquake happened. I was so terrified and scared, and I had no idea what was going on. People were screaming and shouting.”
Living with fear
It’s not just the fear of aftershocks, or even another earthquake, that children must live with. They have to live with the stress and anxiety felt by their parents as they must – all too often in Nepal right now – look for a new home. The end of the stability and security that their lost homes and schools represented are also felt deeply, as they are thrust into the unfamiliar environment of a makeshift tent city.
Life is not easy for children in Nepal right now. Nearly half a million homes have been destroyed.
Another quarter of million have been damaged – many beyond any prospect of repair. That has left children living with their families under tarpaulins, sometimes in the ruins of their homes and sometimes in the thousands of makeshift tent cities that have sprung up across Nepal.
Children suffer at times like these. But that doesn’t make them victims. Far from it. Children are frequently the most resilient people in times of disaster and none more so than during the aftermath of Nepal’s twin earthquakes.
Safe child-friendly spaces
A great place to witness the resilience of children is one of Plan’s child-friendly spaces, where children can go to be children again, and work through their experiences in a safe environment through song, dance and games.
Already, Plan has set up 6 child-friendly spaces. Twenty-nine more are already being prepared, and we are aiming to establish 100 around Nepal. Visit any one of them to see a happy crowd of children playing and chatting. They have not forgotten their experience of the earthquakes – they probably never will – but they are quick to start coping thanks to a simple chat and play with their friends.
“I love to come here and play”
“It’s wonderful, I love to come here and play with my friends. Drawing is my hobby and I get a chance to learn about drawing and time to draw the things I like,” says 8-year-old Mabish.
Today, in the safety and security of one of Plan’s child-friendly spaces, Mabish is more interested in simply drawing than in worrying about an earthquake.
And now Plan is joining with other humanitarian agencies in Nepal to consult with children, to ask them what they see as the big challenges as Nepal recovers from the earthquakes and to find out their ideas and solutions to the challenges the country now faces.
Children will bear the burden of the recovery just as much as adults, so why not ask them how best to tackle it? Children have ideas and solutions. And children have a right to participate in a recovery effort that will have such a huge impact on their lives.
“It will take years for Nepal to recover from this earthquake, but we can surely be better prepared for the next one,” says 14-year-old Ganesh, full of optimism.
Setting up learning spaces
A big feature of these consultations is likely to be education. Thousands of schools have been destroyed and damaged beyond repair in Nepal, and that means many children may face an uncertain future without an all-important education.
Here, too, Plan is supporting children: we are aiming to establish temporary learning spaces – structures with 2 classrooms which can accommodate as many as 200 children each day. Plan will also be putting notebooks, pens and paper into the hands of students and teachers.
The needs of children and their families are urgent and great. Plan has distributed tens of thousands of temporary shelters, and continues to deliver more to vulnerable families and their children.
Protection of children is also paramount. In any disaster, children become separated from their families, or families become desperate. The risks of child labour or even trafficking rise. That’s why Plan’s child-friendly spaces are not just a place to play, but also a place to raise community awareness of the need to protect children.
Help desks are also being set up at aid distribution points, where girls, boys, parents and other members of local communities can come to report concerns and see them followed up.
Please support the Nepal earthquake response and donate to the appeal now
22 May 2015: In this important year for the development agenda, the significance of the 2015 World Education Forum (WEF) extends well beyond the education community itself.
Today in Korea, representatives of education ministries from more than 120 countries will agree a future education agenda that will form a central part of the sustainable development framework for the next 15 years.
Plan International’s Because I am a Girl campaign has always worked for the rights of girls at the intersection of gender equality, protection and education, and that’s why we are at WEF this week: to advocate for the issues that will help to eliminate gender inequality in schools and advance quality education for all children.
Our main activities at WEF have focused on ending violence against, and amplifying the voices of, girls in education.
It is for these reasons that the World Education Forum is a fitting place for us to launch #Girl4President, the Because I am a Girl campaign’s 2015 call to action.
#Girl4President uses the language and aesthetic of political campaigning to insist on the visibility, the voice and the vote of girls in places of influence and power around the world.
That could be at meetings like WEF (read more about the girl advocates Plan has been supporting at the Forum), but it also speaks to other spaces where power dynamics work against girls. These spheres of influence can be at the level of family, school, economic, political and cultural life, and even body autonomy.
#Girl4President – indeed, the entire Because I am a Girl campaign – calls for the enabling environment that will allow girls everywhere to learn, lead and decide their future. Ending school-related gender-based violence and ensuring girls can participate in education system planning, monitoring and accountability mechanisms will help to do that.
Girls are part of the solution
Girls can and must be part of the solution to the challenges we face, and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those relating to education and gender equality, will require the active participation of the girls the goals have been, at least ostensibly, written for.
That makes this new call to action relevant not only to WEF, but also to the entire post-2015 development agenda process and beyond.
Be sure to vote #Girl4President on social media and raise your voice for girls everywhere.
Watch the video Millennium Children: Say NO to sexual violence in schools
May 2015: Omar, a student from Dakar in Senegal, posts his first video blog looking at sexual violence in schools.
Here he interviews 3 girls who were raped by their teacher when they were age 13. He also speaks to the father of one girl who reveals how he discovered the abuse was happening.
Trained by Plan International, Omar is one of a number of young people from all over the world who are using vlogs to give a voice to young people in developing countries on issues that matter to them.
World Education Forum
Across the world, millions of girls are being harassed, abused and followed on the way to school - causing them to fall behind in their education or drop out completey.
Plan International is taking part in the World Education Forum from 19-22 May in Korea to advocate for gender-based violence in and around schools to be made a priority in the global development agenda.
Participants gathering for this week's World Education Forum in South Korea should champion rights-based education that helps girls and boys confront discrimination and gender-based violence, writes Plan International's global education specialist.
18 May 2015: We have often thought that education can save the world. As Plan International’s Global Advisor for education, the strategic goal I am working towards is that every child completes a quality education including early learning, primary and secondary education.
We say that education is key for development and we usually believe that, by bringing more and more children to school, greater opportunities will follow. That is mostly true, but not in all cases. We have seen so many times that schools can be enviroments where violence is promoted, normalised and legitimised, especially gender-based violence.
Children are entitled to a human rights-based education, aiming to protect their life, their integrity and dignity, to respond to their comprehensive needs and promote gender equality, citizenship and peace.
Education to overcome discrimination
Education should not be politically neutral; it should equip both girls and boys with the skills they need to create socially inclusive and equitable societies, providing higher chances of success in the elimination of the negative effects of gender discrimination and stereotypes in life.
Patriarchal traditions can constitute a huge barrier to progress in the realisation of human rights and multiply the obstacles that prevent girls and women from assuming leadership roles and participating in decision-making processes.
That patriarchal framework has given form to educational languages, concepts and models and has had a dramatic impact on schools by validating and reproducing, from generation to generation, stereotypes, prejudices and even violent practices, sometimes even overriding the will of decision-makers.
This is why Plan International believes it is extremely important to empower students, parents, teachers and especially girls to play a crucial role in the reduction and elimination of the negative effects of gender socialisation.
Men’s role in promoting equality
But, watch out! Gender is about men and boys too. It is also the responsibility of men to build a new masculinity grounded on equality, freedom from fear and freedom to feel. And this is part of the education we want in the post-2015 development agenda.
The purpose of education, then, is to facilitate those changes by establishing in all people the capacity to respect and exercise human rights; what is at stake is education for equality and, hence, a more just, equitable and peaceful society.
This will not be achieved simply through law enforcement or the adoption of policies, which fail to address – or even perpetuate – violence and inequality between men and women because they do not take into account the existing economic, social and cultural inequalities, particularly those experienced by girls and women.
Gender inequality in education has some common characteristics in many countries, such as poverty (which itself accounts for many forms of exclusion), dangerous school environments and many patriarchal effects such as curricular stereotyping, parental unwillingness to invest or take an interest in girls’ education, child labour, discriminatory social and cultural practices, restrictions on girls’ freedom of movement and expression and, of course, wars and emergencies.
Targeting all types of exclusion
The difficulties facing young and teenage girls are often aggravated by other types of exclusion linked to disabilities, ethnic or geographical origin, sexual preferences and religious beliefs or lack thereof, among other things.
The protection of very young and adolescent girls from the causes of exclusion related to sexuality and gender-based violence at school, for instance, not only demands attention of the highest priority but also involves and commits the entire education process from the production of textbooks to the construction of sanitary facilities to the hiring, awareness-raising and professional training of teachers.
This is possible only if all children receive comprehensive sexuality education throughout their time in school. To this end, school should foster pupils’ critical thinking about the various expressions of human sexuality and interpersonal relations, without reducing the topic to simple human biology.
School related gender-based violence is one of the most important challenges and must be seen as a central public policy issue, not only related to education, but also to justice, equality and development.
Show your support for this year to be the year that girls' rights are realised and join the call for an end to gender injustice #Girl4President.
18 May 2015: After a long monotonous nine months without attending school, children were finally able to go back when schools reopened in Sierra Leone on 14 March, 2015. Many children were happy to be back to school but there were some who did not go back. Some parents are saying they will not send their children to school any longer because Ebola is still in our environment. Many have no way to generate income to school their children again. There is also distrust of the authorities. Some in Sierra Leone are saying there were poor preparations for reopening of schools.
We have also lost so many trained, and most importantly, inspiring and experienced teachers in the outbreak. This has resulted in scarcity of teachers in schools and is discouraging some students from returning.
Worry about the future
Despite the promises by government that it will support education and also ensure safety in schools, there are still some schools demanding money from children to pay community teachers. I witnessed a scene where a child informed her parent about such payment. The parent replied: “I think this will be the end of your education if payment of this money will make you go to school because I don’t have a penny right now.”
Many other children have lost their parents and thus have no one to foot in the bills for their education or other necessities: no shelter, clothing or food.
Before the outbreak, I wanted to study accounting in any prominent university but this has been made more difficult by Ebola. It is very difficult to go back to education after the disruption of the outbreak. My uncle’s palm kernel business has been pushed to the wall during the outbreak so he can no longer afford to pay for my expensive university course.
Are the children of Sierra Leone and Africa not qualified to receive the same treatment and opportunities as those in Europe? I pity my colleagues who have dropped out of school without quality education. There are now so many young people involved in commercial bike riding, sand and gold/diamond mining, breaking stones and farming, or even crime. This means an end to their education and a bleak future for them. Most importantly our innocent and precious girls have been worst hit by the Ebola menace with the rise of early pregnancies, early and forced marriages and street trading, in the midst of the outbreak.
Safety in schools
It is very important that schools are safe when children return to them after an emergency. In Sierra Leone, schools have been disinfected prior to their reopening. In the schools in my community, buckets with water and soap were placed by school gates, within the school compound and by doors of classrooms for hand washing prior entering. Also, there were trained teachers who do temperature checks with a thermometer.
However, like many others I fear for the risks involved as pupils and teachers will be coming from different locations including hot spots. Water, which is important for Ebola prevention is a very big problem in schools within my community. In one of the schools I visited I saw buckets placed outside without water in them. In the villages, children have to walk for some miles to fetch water in school; this is risky and even the water is impure. Moreover, the preventive measures are not effective in all schools. One girl told me: “My temperature has never been checked since the reopening of schools.” Even the classrooms are not big enough in all schools. A young person said to me: “We are over 80 in our classroom and it is not commodious; but the ‘Avoid Body Contact’ slogan is still upheld in my school.”
It is very difficult to avoid body contact when many children are in a small space.
What the government and the international community can do
I am calling on our government to increase school building, train more teachers in psychosocial support, Ebola prevention and control, provide school learning materials, and employ independent or special persons for monitoring the Ebola prevention in schools as well as immoral behavior of teachers in schools such as sexual harassment, money extortion, and corporal punishment. After an emergency, the government should pay special attention to the education and basic needs of orphans and survivors.
I am further asking INGOs and the international community to continue to help children access education after the emergency by providing scholarship schemes for children and young people in Ebola-affected areas; instituting school feeding programmes in both primary and secondary schools; continuing to provide food items and learning materials to orphans, survivors and the poor; and providing recreational facilities for Ebola survivors and orphans in schools to encourage them to forget about what has happened to them and instead pay attention to their learning.
Find out why Plan is calling for a global fund for education in emergencies
8 May 2015: We are lucky it wasn't a school day. After the earthquake in Nepal, more than 16,000 public and private schools - about half of the country's total - have been damaged, according to UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Asia and the Pacific, and the country's entire education system is on shakier ground than ever.
Many schools are closed due to fear of aftershocks and pending damage assessments, while others are being used as temporary shelters.
For a country as poor as Nepal, this is going to have a lasting impact on the girls and boys affected if education isn't prioritised quickly. This is an important test for donors and the international community; can we meet this emergency with the attention and resources needed to meet immediate needs and to build back the country's schools?
Safe learning spaces
According to the UN, Nepal's government is in need of support to construct and maintain temporary learning spaces for children. These places are important not just for education continuity, but also as safe spaces to help children regain a sense of normalcy and respond to their immediate psychosocial needs. These spaces also protect children from the increased risk of trafficking and child marriage - common practices in some of the areas worst hit, especially for girls.
In fact, Plan International's State of the World Girls Report, In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls and Disasters, shows how adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable in disasters.
Nepal has made enormous progress in education in recent years: more and more new schools were being built, enrolment rates for basic education were going up (from 76% in 2010 to 90% in 2014) and drop-out rates were going down.
But the 7.8 magnitude quake has put these gains at risk and rebuilding will take time. Research tells us that once children are out of school for one year, they are unlikely to return.
"I worry I won't be able to study"
Ten-year-old Asmita, from Central Nepal, lost her home and all of her belongings during the earthquake. But her main worry is how she will go back to school.
"I was really frightened, thinking that everything and everyone around me was going to die. The ground was shaking all around...it made such a loud noise. I couldn't sleep the whole night," she said. "I now worry that I won't be able to study or go to school, because all of my books were destroyed, and buried within my collapsed home."
Interventions are needed now so that children like Asmita can keep playing and keep learning, even in times of crisis.
However, the current education financing architecture fails to safeguard schools, preserve education continuity and protect children and young people.
International action needed
In 2014, just 1% of humanitarian funds deployed went to education, and there is currently no mechanism to fund education of refugee children or those affected by disaster; the limitations of the current international financing architecture for education are woefully clear.
Nepal now stands before us as a test of commitment to this fundamental human right.
The international community must mobilise a response with the speed and scale this education crisis demands. And in the coming weeks, leaders will have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make this a reality.
Governments gathering at the World Education Forum in Korea this month, the Oslo Summit on Education for Development and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July must set out a greater ambition for the funding of education and agree specific contributions that will turn the tide on chronic underinvestment.
Countries such as Nepal have worked for years to put disaster preparation measures in place. It is essential the international community does the same.
Plan International is providing vital aid to children affected by the Nepal earthquake - including education, water and shelter.
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Aftershocks in Nepal after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake of 25 April remind residents of the essential needs that remain after the disaster, blogs Matt Crook, Plan International.
6 May 2015: There’s nothing more confusing than getting woken up by an aftershock shaking the building in the middle of the night. These aftershocks are a daily occurrence, but when they happen in the dead of night, when you’re fast asleep, there’s inevitably a brief moment of “WHAT WAS THAT?”
So I can only imagine what it must be like for the people of Nepal who endured the 7.8-magnitude quake that rocked the country a little more than a week ago. These regular reminders must be terrifying, especially out in the hills like we are at the moment, about 5 hours east of Kathmandu in a district called Dolakha.
There are makeshift tents made up of tarps all over the place in Dolakha. The drive here takes you through such jaw-dropping beautiful scenery, so visually stunning that for a moment, you almost forget what has happened in Nepal – only to be reminded a moment later when you see a pile of rubble that used to be a house.
Making the journey to DolakhaThe road to Dolakha was long, steep and winding, with cracked roads and landslides along the way. When we got into the main town, I was surprised to see so many hotels. It turns out Dolakha is a transit for trekkers. I haven’t seen any trekkers yet, though I’m sure there are a few about. Once you get through the main urban centre, you see houses scattered across the greenery, some in better shape than others.
A lot of these structures were not built to withstand a tremor, so they fell down. But it wasn’t just houses that toppled or were damaged. Health centres and hospitals also bore the brunt. We met with the Department of Health Services yesterday and they told us that 28 health facilities in the district had been completely destroyed, with 16 partially damaged. There’s a real need for tents so that health care officials can set up temporary structures in order to keep delivering services to people affected by the Earthquake.
Seeing the health conditions
I visited a hospital yesterday and met several doctors who were working around the clock and doing an incredible job with very little support. They took me through a tour of the building to show me their existing working conditions: the building is full of cracks and patients are understandably terrified to stay there, particularly when you factor in the aftershocks. But they have no choice. Some have broken limbs, others with infected wounds and of course there are many pregnant women and newborns. As one mother asked me yesterday, cradling her newborn baby, “Where am I supposed to go once I leave here?” Her home was decimated. It’s a nightmare situation.
Yet even though the hospital building is still standing, the equipment the doctors are using is so old, outdated and damaged that they can barely meet the needs of the 50-60 people they are seeing daily.
A doctor there told me that after the first wave of patients with acute trauma and the second wave of patients suffering from infected and neglected wounds and ailments, they’re now getting the third wave of patients suffering from diarrhoea and other communicable diseases. One young guy I met was so dehydrated; he was put on a drip. He looked like he was really struggling, but at least he was getting treatment. For many, the journey to a health centre is simply too difficult to make, especially with damaged roads and landslides.
Communities in need
I’ll be here for a few more days, going round with colleagues as they meet local officials and villagers to better assess the situation while also distributing essential supplies like tarpaulins and food. We’re setting up an office here for the next 6 months, possibly longer, to focus on immediate needs. At the moment, Plan is working with Irish Aid, the Nepali military and US Marines to deliver shelter to communities in need, while we’re also gearing up to start interventions on health with a focus on the most vulnerable: pregnant mothers, newborns and children under 5.
It’s going to be a long 6 months, but already I’m seeing people coming together, rebuilding, and helping one. It’s that kind of community spirit that gets people through this difficult time.
Support the Plan relief effort in Nepal.
Find out more about Plan's work in Nepal.
Urmila Chaudhary - a former kamalari child servant who is now a Plan International Because I am a Girl campaign ambassador and recipient of the UN’s ‘Youth Courage Award for Education' - was in Kathmandu when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed the city. Here she recalls her experience and the challenges she faces.
1 May 2015: My hotel room suddenly started to shake. I thought someone was having a fight, but when I tried to see what was happening, the shaking continued.
When it eventually stopped, my friends and I made our way outside. As we walked through the crowd, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. Monuments had toppled to the ground and I could see people injured and dying. Many had cuts all over their bodies – a sight that still haunts me today.
My friends and I tried to move to another hotel, but the aftershocks continued. Together we decided to make our way to safer ground.
When we arrived, we were joined by droves of others. Some had lost their homes, others had lost their family members. Everyone was seeking safety.
I could see babies who were 2 or 3 days old with little clothing to keep them warm. Girls who were menstruating had no supplies and nowhere to clean themselves up. There was no toilet or bathroom – and certainly no privacy.
My family live some 10 hours away, and I desperately wanted to check if they were OK. The earthquake had knocked out all cell service so I could do nothing but worry.
Sleeping out in the cold
After the first night of sleeping out in the cold, my friends and I moved to a piece of land that belonged to someone I knew. There we found a toilet. It was shared between 35 of us, but it was better than nothing. At night, we were unable to sleep as we feared constant aftershocks. When it started to rain, we shivered. It was so cold in Kathmandu and so dark, especially as there was no electricity.
All around me, I could see young girls, worried about their safety as they had to sleep amongst strangers.
After 3 days, I decided to try and make my way back to Dang – the village where I live. I managed to contact my family. Thankfully they were safe as the earthquake had not been felt as much in their village. I desperately wanted to see them. I missed them so much.
The bus journey home was arduous. Usually, it takes 10 hours, this time it took 22. Everyone wanted to escape Kathmandu and the bus was packed. There was nowhere to sit and nothing to eat. Food prices have shot up and a bottle of water costs 4 times the normal price.
I am nearly home now, but it hasn’t been easy. I am currently staying with my brother and sister, as I feel too sick to make it all the way back to my village at the moment.
My friends who used to work as kamalaris (child servants) have also been injured. But they are alive and most of them are back with their families, having slept outside for days.
Yet, it doesn’t stop me from worrying about the girls who have lived through this earthquake. Like many others, I am unable to sleep at the moment. When I close my eyes I dream about what happened. I hear people crying and I see images of dead bodies.
I want to go back to school to complete my grade 11 exams, but the government has shut the schools for one week. While I wait for the schools to reopen, I am trying to study. However every time I try to concentrate, I am haunted by what happened – I am sure others are too.
I am dedicated to helping the young girls in Nepal overcome this experience – they are injured, they have lost their houses and what they have lived through is terrifying. They are facing so many problems, but I want to help them in whatever way I can.
Plan International is providing vital aid and support to children and families affected by the Nepal earthquake – including setting up safe spaces and providing quality emotional and psychological support.
This article first appeared on marieclaire.com