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Pakistan: No Desks, No Chairs, No Toilets! Improving the School Environment

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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province located in the northwestern part of Pakistan, shares an international border with Afghanistan. This province has more than 50 camps that house as many as 1.5 million refugees who fled from neighboring Afghanistan, which has been plagued by political instability for more than three decades. Since May 2011, AAR Japan has carried out activities to renovate and reconstruct primary school buildings, and to raise public hygiene awareness in three refugee camps and the surrounding villages in Nowshera District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Fukuro KAKIZAWA, from our Tokyo Office, reports.

Remote primary schools lacking even bare essentials

Villages in Khairabad, Nowshera District, are situated in hilly areas at locations some distance from the main town center. There is no road access to the villages, compelling any visitors to drive up a dried-up riverbed.

Located at the edge of the province, assistance to this district by the central provincial government has been limited, and primary schools have had to contend with inadequate educational facilities. Due to the fact that classrooms do not have enough desks or chairs, children are forced to sit in the corridors or schoolyard ground during classes. Moreover, many primary schools have no toilets, forcing children to excrete within the confines of the school compound or in surrounding areas. The lack of toilets has impacted upon female pupils in particular; some have to leave school early, while many parents hesitate to even send their daughters to school.

In 2014, AAR Japan started to take action to improve the educational environment in the Khairabad area - building two new classrooms, adding or building eight toilets and opening two libraries at seven public primary schools, while also repairing the existing classrooms and toilets. AAR Japan also upgraded water supply equipment at schools, installing motor pump type wells at three schools and repairing the existing wells and water supply equipment at three other schools.

“We need to conserve the village’s precious water”

The most daunting challenge has been to supply schools with a sufficient amount of water for toilets, hand washing, washstands and drinking. The Khairabad area is arid throughout the year, where adequate rainfall can only be expected for a month or so during the summer. In the villages that dot the hilly areas, villagers share the cost of building a well when they happen to find a precious source of water that springs out from the mountains. The well is then maintained by the village as its communal property. Water pipes, which connect the communal wells with villages and ensure water supply to the villages, have not yet reached village primary schools in many instances. Schools in Moto Patti village, where AAR Japan provided assistance, had no toilets or hand washing basins.

We started out by consulting the village elders on how to secure the water to be used at the schools. The elders, living in a dry zone where even groundwater is scarce, initially objected to our suggestion of drilling a new well. The villagers were faced with the dilemma of conserving the water for the village and the desire to provide a better learning environment for the children.

Following many rounds of talks with the elders, in the presence of school teachers, they eventually agreed that we would begin by repairing the village well, in order to secure a source of water supply, and share some of that water with the schools. At first the elders seemed anxious about sharing the communal water with schools, but eventually agreed to the idea, saying, “We hope the water makes the children’s school life better.”

The communal well owned by the village, we discovered, was open to the elements and in an unsanitary condition, due to rainwater and dirt contamination. AAR Japan fitted the well with a metal cover as protection against rain and sand, and reinforced the damaged stone side walls with concrete. Furthermore, we installed a door to allow access to the well’s interior, to facilitate repair and maintenance work.

Following the successful completion of the work in September 2014, the communal well in the village was overhauled and renovated, and primary schools finally had new toilets and water fountains. Standing in front of the restored well, villagers reassured us, “We will make sure we look after and maintain the well properly for everyone, including the children.”