By Lucy Keating, IFRC
In crisp clean uniforms, children pick their way through the rubble on their way to school. The town of Bhaktapur was badly damaged in the two earthquakes that struck Nepal, where many people died and in some areas all of the houses have been destroyed. But one month on, the schools are now reopening.
There is a lot of change to deal with. Most of the children have lost their homes; many have lost family members. But the start of the school term means a return to some sort of normality.
Bhumika and Suraj Sainju’s house collapsed when the earthquake struck and luckily all 28 members of the family managed to escape. Now, 11 of them are living in a tent provided by the Red Cross. The family is sitting eating breakfast together when we meet them.
“I’m excited to go back to school,” Bhumika tells us, smiling shyly. “I will get to be with my friends and we can play together. My favourite subject is maths and I want to go and learn.”
Together with the Red Cross, Bhumika’s school had been teaching the students about what to do in the event of an earthquake. Classes included simple advice on how to prepare and protect themselves.
“When the first earthquake came we were in the fields digging potatoes. I knew what to do. We moved away from the trees into an open space to protect ourselves. It was very frightening.”
At the gates of Demos English School, Laman Dong, a father of three, is accompanying his children back to school. He is nervous about them being away from home and wants to check they will be safe.
“I have come to speak to the Principal,” he says. “The school is three storeys high and I don’t want the children to be inside; I want them to build a tent outside and teach them there.”
The youngest class is being taught outside, under a canopy in the playground. The first week, the Principal says, is all about building their confidence, to help them feel safe and enjoy school.
“At the moment they are not interested in learning and we cannot force them – this week we will do fun activities like drawing and singing to ease them back into school life,” Principal Binod Rai says.
“Nearly 75 per cent of children have come back. They are happy to be here but we need to look after their minds too – they are frightened. While they may seem fine, we are watching them closely for signs, and if they are upset, we will take them aside and reassure them and make sure they are OK. I am confident that coming back to school is the right thing”.
“The teachers know they are here to set an example, so if an aftershock does happen they will take the lead in following the lessons we have been giving in the preparedness classes. They will drop, find cover and hold.”
More than 4,000 school buildings across the country were damaged in the earthquakes and many lessons will have to be held under canvas tents. Principal Binod is eager to tell the students that the building has been checked by the municipality and is safe. At this stage it is all about reassurance.
Claire Groves, a psychosocial support delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says: “Children are very resilient but many of them have been through a very traumatic time. Re-engaging in school helps to re-establish structure and a familiar routine that gives children a sense of safety and security. Being at school also provides an opportunity to be around peers, receive support and it gives parents time to focus on the task of rebuilding their lives.”
For now the children do seem happy to be back – there are lots of giggling and chatting and smiling; they are with their friends, and together they will build their futures.
The Nepal Red Cross Society, in collaboration with the British Red Cross has been implementing the Earthquake Preparedness for Safer Communities programme (EPS) across the Kathmandu valley since 2012.