Altogether, 1.7 million children were affected when 32,000 classrooms were destroyed, and more than 15,000 classrooms sustained damage.
Happily, five weeks later, almost 14,000 children in Nepal’s hardest-hit districts have headed back to class. With the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and partners have set up 137 temporary schools made of interlaced bamboo and tarpaulin roofing and outfitted with UNICEF-supplied educational and recreational supplies.
Many children returning to class are traumatized. UNICEF and partners have trained 1,142 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.
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 and other students and their teachers and parents started the session by digging holes, sawing bamboos and transporting desks, benches and mats; in just an hour-and-a-half 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.
“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 985,000 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.
“It finally seems like things are going to be normal,” she says.
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.”