When 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude earthquakes struck Nepal on April 25 and May 12, children's education was brought to a halt. Students who had witnessed immense destruction and suffering in their communities had also lost their schools—places that for many represent hope for a more promising future.
In all, 32,000 classrooms were destroyed, with more than 15,000 classrooms sustaining damage, resulting in 1.7 million children being affected.
Year 2 students, Rushma Shrestha and Rakshya Adhikari, head back to school in Gorkha. © UNICEF CAR /PFPG2015-3361/Lama
But today, more than 136,000 children in Nepal’s hardest-hit districts have headed back to class. With the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and partners have set up 610 temporary schools made of bamboo and tarpaulin roofing, equipped with educational and recreational supplies from UNICEF.
As a result of their experiences, many children returning to class have been experiencing profound stress. UNICEF and partners have trained teachers to offer psychosocial support and teach disaster preparedness, health, hygiene, and protection—all essentials that families are eager to provide for their children in the wake of such a life-altering disaster.
Laxmi Giri, 16, inside the makeshift tent school of Shree Balephi Secondary School. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3262/Karki
In Balephi, Sindhupalchowk, 16-year-old Laxmi arrived for her first day back at school with a vermillion red tika dotting her forehead, the traditional mark of an auspicious day. She, alongside other students, teachers and parents, started the day by digging holes, sawing bamboo and transporting desks, benches and mats. In just one and half hours they had helped turn a cornfield into a makeshift school. After singing the national anthem, the students talked about their experiences of the earthquake and how it has changed their lives.
Teachers and students work together to set up the school tent at Shree Balephi Secondary School. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3278/Karki
“I don’t think I will fear anything else in life,” said tenth-grader Nabina Ban, who had been cutting grass on a steep hillside when the second earthquake struck. “I immediately ran toward a safe place, from where I could see the road below splitting apart and the slope above slipping away.”
“It is no use hiding under a wooden bed when the entire house can crumble,” she added, recounting a painfully learned lesson to her classmates. Her friend Anita’s body was found under a bed. For Laxmi Giri, the lesson was to change the way houses are built in the village. “There should be enough open space for everyone to run for safety without obstruction.”
Elsewhere in Nepal, children are not as fortunate. For thousands of kids, getting back to learning is still an elusive dream—and an urgent need. “Evidence shows that children who are out of school for prolonged periods of time after a disaster are increasingly less likely to ever return to the classroom,” explains Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in Nepal.
“Education cannot wait,” Hozumi says.
The children at the Kuleshwor School in Kathmandu are happy to be back in school. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3354/Page
At Kuleshwor Awas Secondary School in Kathmandu, teacher Sapana Sigdel agrees. She has been living in a tent since the first earthquake tore her home out from under her as she washed dishes in her kitchen. Returning to teaching the children has given her hope.
“It finally seems like things are going to be normal,” she says.
Back at the Shree Balephi Secondary School in Balephi, Sindhupalchowk, principal Hari Sharan has been visiting families to discourage children from dropping out of school.
Teacher Balram Khanal says, “School is not just a building, it’s a spirit, and it’s up to all of us to keep it alive—no matter what.”
Like all of her classmates, this young student is happy to finally be back in school at the Kuleshwor School in Kathmandu, Nepal. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3357/Page