November 2005 News

UN Launches 'school In Box' In Devastated Kashmir

8 November 2005

Muzaffarabad: The United Nations launched a 'school in a box' project on Tuesday to help restart classes in earthquake-devastated Pakistan, where thousands of children died when their schools were destroyed last month. The government says 73,276 people died in the Oct. 8 quake in Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province. The U.N. Children's Fund says about half the victims were children. UNICEF estimates 17,000 were killed when hundreds of schools collapsed when the disaster struck during morning classes. It plans to distribute 2,000 boxes in the earthquake zone containing slates, pencils, chalk, coloured pencils and notebooks to help efforts to restart classes. At least 10,000 schools were damaged or destroyed in the quake, UNICEF said. Each box can accommodate 40 students for about three months, said UNICEF's Claudia Hudspeth at a ceremony in which she handed one over to the headmistress of a government school in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir. The Narol Government High School is one of only 10 in Muzaffarabad that have restarted classes since the disaster. They are being held in tents in the ruins of the school building. 'It was one of the best schools of Muzaffarabad,' said new headmistress Khalida Khaliq, who was appointed last week after her predecessor was killed in the earthquake. Eighty-four children and two teachers died when the school collapsed. Khaliq said more than 100 children had returned to the school since it reopened last week. QUAKE LESSON Children sat in the new tent classroom separated by grade. On Tuesday, they had only one lesson: 'Write something about the earthquake.' 'We were studying in school when the earthquake stuck on Oct. 8,' Naila Siddiqe, nine-year-old fourth grade pupil, wrote in a notebook provided by UNICEF. One of Naila's sisters was badly injured in the disaster, her back broken when the school collapsed. She is being treated in a hospital in Pakistani capital, Islamabad. 'I do come to school, but I am scared there may be another hit,' Naila said shyly while covering her face with her hands. Local government officials say up to 600 teachers were killed in the earthquake across Pakistani Kashmir. Mohammad Arif, the region's education secretary, said all 1,500 schools and colleges in Muzaffarabad district were damaged or destroyed, along with 85 percent of those in neighbouring Bagh district and half of those in Poonch. Farmooda Abbas, a teacher at Naila, lost two of her children at the school in the earthquake but she said she had not lost hope. 'These are my children. I will educate them,' she said gesturing to the class. 'I will never leave Muzaffarabad. Two of my children are studying here while my two other children are sleeping here,' Farmooda said, sobbing quietly, referring to the two who died. Khalida, the headmistress, said she needed everything from pencils to a new school building. 'We don't have anything and we need everything,' she said.


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