3 July 2015: It was a beautiful early morning when we left Kathmandu to go to Makwanpur. I was taking a day out from my role as an advocacy specialist for the Nepal emergency response, to meet children, young people, partners and local officials Plan International is working with to help rebuild children’s lives after the earthquakes.
In Makwanpur, while we waited for the Phakhel Village Development Committee to assemble, we sat down with Plan International Sponsorship Manager Anil Deoja. Makwanpur was impacted on a smaller scale than other districts, but the needs are still great. Anil brought us up to speed with the situation in the district, where we were already delivering long-term development programmes before the April earthquake.
Adequate shelter remains the major need, particularly with the monsoons, and there are increased incidences of trafficking and child labour – already problems before the disaster.
As we made our way into the dimly-lit Village Development Committee building, the conversation turned to education, a key concern for children in Makwanpur and across the country.
1 million out of school
With more than 53,000 classrooms either destroyed or damaged, the government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment ranks education as the sector with the second greatest need, only behind housing. When schools reopened at the end of May, 1 million Nepali children were unable to return to school.
Those girls and boys who are able to return are faced with additional challenges. Countless numbers lost their books and learning materials in the earthquakes. Having missed school for a few months, and with many children finding it hard to study in the meantime, there are serious concerns about impending examinations.
Still, members of the Village Development Committee we spoke with were optimistic, proudly noting that before the earthquakes hit, all children were in school. It was clear that returning to school had made a huge difference for children. “When children are in school, they are fine. But it is in the evenings that they still feel scared,” a committee member told me.
This is consistent with what we know: in times of emergency, education provides physical protection and psychosocial safe spaces for children, particularly girls. It provides routine, and signals a return to normality. It can save lives. That is part of the reason that support for education in emergencies is a priority for Plan International.
Temporary learning solution
Later in the day, we visited a temporary learning centre in Bajrabarahi – one of 25 that we are establishing in Makwanpur. It is times like these that shine a light on the importance of education in helping recovery and strengthening resilience. As we entered the classroom, made from bamboo and corrugated iron sheeting, we were met with a chorus of noise.
“Namaste!” the children shouted, smiles stretching across each and every face.
They have quickly settled in. The temporary learning centre, half built by Plan International and half by the community, was alive with activity. As I looked over some promising artwork, and skimmed through a social sciences textbook, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted.
My joy at seeing kids back at school was tempered by thoughts of longer-term challenges. How long will it take for their primary school to be rebuilt? How will this centre fare in the monsoon rains?
And what about those girls and boys who are not yet able to return to education? There is a real risk that many will drop out of education – possibly permanently – to enter into child labour or child marriage, or even be forced into trafficking and exploitation. The risks to girls are particularly concerning, and the rates at which they return to school should be monitored intently.
Urgent funding call
Here lies the challenge. All of this will cost money. Commitments made at the recent donor conference in Kathmandu should ensure some targeted funding for education. This should be an urgent priority.
Education in emergencies is notoriously underfunded. The Nepal UN flash appeal for education received just half of its funding target – par for the course for a sector that in 2014 only received 1% of all humanitarian funding. This needs to change.
This is why Plan International is joining with A World at School and other partners to call for an urgent fund* to provide education for children affected by wars and natural disasters.
For me, the success of the 7 July Oslo Summit on Education for Development* hinges on whether world leaders take the plunge and commit to creating a Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies.
That step would make a dramatic difference for all the children whose lives are disrupted by disaster.
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