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Disability is no longer a barrier to my education

Plan International plans to build 20 new ‘safe schools’ and repair 1,600 classrooms that were damaged by the Nepal earthquakes. They will be equipped to support children with disabilities and are set to benefit scores of children like Samita, who has struggled to access education.

Samita inside a temporary classroom with her friend
Samita inside a temporary classroom with her friend (photo by Max Greenstein)

“I was happy when our temporary school was built, because I was able to study in a good environment. Even when the earthquake occurred, all of the students could run into a free space, but due to my disability, I was afraid the earthquake would impact me even more,” says Samita*, a 15-year-old girl from Dolakha district in Nepal.

When Samita was just 2 years old, she fell in to a kitchen fire. Doctors said that with such severe burns, they had no choice but to amputate her leg.

After receiving the artificial leg, I was able to walk more freely and do my daily activities

For the most of her life, Samita walked on a stump, with one leg shorter than the other. She only received a prosthetic leg last year, just weeks after the earthquake.

“Before my prosthetic leg, it was hard for me to move around. Even carrying my school bag was a challenge. I struggled to walk and it would often take me 2 to 3 times longer than my classmates to reach my school,” Samita says.

“After receiving the artificial leg, I was able to walk more freely and do my daily activities,” she says.

Earthquake damage

Samita’s home was heavily damaged in the April 2015 earthquake, though through the support of the community, her family has been able to rebuild the initial structure for their permanent home.

“Plan International has provided us social support, like counselling and an education, as well as hardware support, like buckets and water kits,” says Samita’s father.

Samita’s school was also damaged by the first earthquake on 25 April, but it was the second earthquake, a few weeks later, that completely destroyed several of the classrooms. The epicentre of the second earthquake, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, was just 500 metres away from the school grounds.

"Our school supported 225 students, [but] the earthquakes destroyed the school structure and the school was closed for 6 weeks,” says Dinesh, 38, the school principal. “We were planning to open up the school in early May, but then the second earthquake came, and our plans changed entirely."

New temporary school

“Then Plan International came and built us a temporary school, and provided us with stationery, school bags, water purifiers,” says Dinesh.

The earthquakes had a tremendous impact on the school’s students, who initially were hesitant to return when school eventually resumed in a new temporary structure. Students feared another aftershock and many feared being separated from their parents. These fears were especially difficult for Samita, who worried about her mobility.

“I was nervous to return to school, as I was afraid if there was another aftershock that I would not be able to leave the classroom as easily as the other students,” she says.

Tackling disability barriers

Students in the local secondary school recognise the barriers that schools may present, particularly for children with disabilities. A friend of Samita explains: “The school environment should support everyone. Samita feels left out. Since it takes her extra time to walk home, she does not stay behind after school to work on her homework. We all stay together to support each other with our studies, but she doesn’t, because she knows it will take her longer to reach home.”

Dinesh, the school principal, is concerned about the barriers she faces. “Moving forward, we want to pave the walking roads and add ramps for children to enter classrooms, as well as balustrades,” he says.

Making schools safe and accessible

Plan International will provide training to children and teachers on disaster preparedness: learning how different types of disasters happen, and what to do when they strike.  

I am very excited about our model school. We want to ensure that all students can attend school

Handicap International, a partner that Plan International works closely with, will train students and teachers on how to support children with disabilities, particularly in a disaster scenario.

“I am very excited that we are receiving a model school,” says Dinesh. “Our school will have a physical, strong structure and our teachers will receive training to support all students. We want to ensure that all students can attend school – despite their disability.”

Supporting children with disabilities

Samita is also looking forward to the new school. “Plan International has supported us to make our life easier. As they are planning to construct a safe building, it will make a big difference in the lives of disabled children, like me," she says. "Other disabled children can come and learn in a school environment that supports them. We will receive good classrooms, toilets, boundary fencing and school materials.”

Supporting and meeting the needs of children with disabilities continues to be a priority for Plan International in Nepal.

Given that children with disabilities are 10 times less likely to attend school than children without disabilities, it is critical that teachers and parents understand the challenges that young people with disabilities face and offer support within a conducive and inclusive learning environment.

Learn more about Plan International's earthquake response work in Nepal.

*The names of children in vulnerable areas have been changed to protect their identities