PAKISTAN - When powerful floods destroyed Aamir Ali’s school in Khairpur district in Pakistan’s Sindh province this year, the 11-year-old feared he wouldn’t have the chance to study again. “I was quite upset when the recent floods destroyed my school. I thought ‘now how will I be able to study?’” shares Aamir. “Then my friends came to me and said that a school had been installed in a tent in our village and I happily came here”, says the enthusiastic student who is thrilled to be back in the classroom after two months out of school.
World Vision established the tented classroom in one of its Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), set-up in Peer Bux Jalalani village in response to the devastating 2010 floods. With the renewed flooding this year, the CFS has once again been utilised and has won the support of many families – most of whom have several children.
If we can create an environment where learning is fun and where children feel safe and happy, then we have a much better chance of reducing drop-out rates and of seeing children through to the end of the school cycle
Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by monsoon floods and rain this year in Pakistan. Around 270 people have been killed in Sindh province and the provincial government, which has called on international agencies to help, says 1.2 million homes have been washed away, more than 4.2 million acres of land (1,699,680 hectares) has been flooded and 1.59 million acres (643,450 hectares) of standing crops have been destroyed in Sindh.
According to Kirar, a World Vision facilitator who works with children in the tented school, education has always been the most neglected part of community life. Frequent disasters over the past several years have taken their toll on education activities in disaster affected areas, especially in Sindh province.
Recalling the country’s worst flooding in 2010, Kirar says, "Our children's education activities were in the recovery process; however, in the meantime, we have received another flood in many parts of the province. It is highly unfortunate that children’s education suffers immensely, during and post disaster situation in Pakistan”.
"If we can create an environment where learning is fun and where children feel safe and happy, then we have a much better chance of reducing drop-out rates and of seeing children through to the end of the school cycle," says World Vision Child Protection Psychologist Mr. Kamran.
Kamran and other World Vision staff are already witnessing positive changes in the children. Speaking of eight-year-old Saeed, whose right hand is paralysed and who has been extremely withdrawn and sullen, Kamran says, “Saeed has undergone a complete change in his attitude after spending some time at the CFS. His confidence level has boosted. Now he is cultivating friendships with other children at the CFS”.
Until he began attending the CFS, Saeed had not spent any time in a classroom and his prospects of receiving an education were grim.
Saeed’s father, Meva Khan, agrees that the change is astounding. “The staff at the CFS has had a magical effect over my son and has brought an affirmative change in Saeed’s attitude. Now I am thinking of sending him to school in the future.”
Currently 141 children (88 boys and 53 girls) are registered in the CFS in Peer Bux village but the number of children is expected to increase to around 600 children.
Aamir, who is in the third grade, studies Sindhi, Math, English, Science and Religious Studies. "Sindhi is my favourite," he says. "I like coming to school to learn how to read. I'm learning how to read properly and I want to be a teacher," he says with a broad grin.
I’ve also been informed about child rights and now I share those things with my other friends in my village
In addition to receiving books, toys, sports equipment and drawing material, Aamir and his peers take part in recreational activities, including sports such as cricket, football, Carom board and badminton.
They also learn about health and hygiene- specifically about the importance of proper handwashing and dental care, etc. “Now I get up early in the morning and brush my teeth and take a bath and wash my hands before and after eating meals,” he shares.
“I’ve also been informed about child rights and now I share those things with my other friends in my village,” says Aamir.
The significance of the tented classroom isn’t lost on Aamir’s father, Anwar Ali, who also has a young daughter. Anwar Ali runs a small grocery shop in his village and his average daily income is just 90 PKR (US$1).
It’s a daily struggle to care for his two children and even tougher living in the aftermath of the flood.
“Thanks to World Vision, the CFS has not only helped our children to continue their education but has also created hygiene awareness…on behalf of my whole community I hope that World Vision will continue the educational activities on a permanent basis,” Anwar continues.
World Vision has been supporting children and their families through its CFS by providing tents and other essential materials to help children stay in school. The focus on children enjoying education and wanting to come to the CFS is something that World Vision is encouraging with animators and the local community.
Currently, five Child Friendly Spaces are operating in three tehsils of Khairpur district in Sindh province and eight more permanent ‘Child Protection Centres’ are operating out of hired premises in many of the affected villages.
Both Child Friendly Spaces and Child Protection Centres aim to help children gain a sense of normality and stability after losing their homes and routines. They also focus on formal and informal learning, including life skills, child rights and health and hygiene. They are part of World Vision’s broader efforts to ensure all children in Pakistan enjoy good health, are cared for and protected and are educated for life.