SHATAY VILLAGE, Pakistan, 17 October 2008 - On the first day of school, dozens of children in blue uniforms rushed excitedly towards their brand-new building. Finally, the the girls of Shatay village were able to attend their lessons in real school made of bricks and mortar.
For the past three years, the girls of Shatay had been attending school in a tent that was set up by UNICEF in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck this region in October 2005. Their new school is one of 160 permanent schools UNICEF is building in earthquake-affected districts.
"We like our new school. It was very difficult in the tents," said a student named Nimra. "It was very cold in the winter and very hot in summer and when it rained and snowed, or was very windy."
Nimra was at school when the earthquake struck. The building sustained major damage but the teachers managed to lead the students to safety, and there were no casualties. "I started in this school from pre-school, but we were closed for two months after the earthquake," she says.
Thousands of schools destroyed
The earthquake paralyzed the education system, destroying or badly damaging about 6,000 primary schools. In the relief period immediately following the earthquake, one major priority was to give children a normal environment as soon as possible.
In response, UNICEF set up over 4,000 tented and transitional shelter schools in the earthquake-affected areas. Since 2005, nearly 10,000 teachers have benefited from training to improve learning achievement among their students.
The residents of Shatay village are mostly farmers who grow tobacco and vegetables. Nimra has three sisters and three brothers, and her father is a small shopkeeper in the nearby village of Dhodial. He has difficulty providing for his family but is convinced that all his children, boys and girls, should get equal education.
Supporting girls' education
Since the earthquake in 2005, UNICEF has supported the enrolment of approximately 465,000 children, nearly half of them girls, at primary schools in quake-affected districts. Before the disaster, school enrolment rates in this area were among the lowest in Pakistan.
Shatay village has a Parent-Teacher Council (PTC) involved in all aspects of school activities. The PTC was established in 1992 but was mostly dormant until it was reactivated in 2007 with UNICEF support.
"The PTC is very active now, and I'm here to monitor the teacher and student performance," said the council chairperson, Ms. Keshwar.
Safe and child-friendly
In the immediate days after the earthquake, UNICEF and its partners tried to make sure that children who had lost their homes, families and friends could find safety and normalcy by returning to school.
Today, ensuring that these children can complete their education and have strong, earthquake-proof schools are a the highest priorities.
By 'building back better', UNICEF and its partners are providing safe, child-friendly schools that will help Nimra and thousands of other children to learn, grow and reach their potential.