Schools reopen in earthquake-devastated Nepal
Hundreds of thousands of Nepalese children have returned to school in Nepal for the first time since two earthquakes last month killed more than 8,700 people and injured 23,000.
Schools have been shut in the poverty-stricken south Asian state since the tremors, which left thousands of classrooms badly damaged.
At the Adarsha Saula Yubak Higher secondary school in the small village of Khokana, about 10 miles south of Kathmandu, red stickers indicated the cracked buildings were unsafe.
As children filed into wooden huts constructed in the school grounds by parents and volunteers, the school’s principal, Saroj Bhakta Acharya, addressed the students, telling them not to be afraid. “We will resume our school in this bamboo made hut so do not worry about the earthquake,” he said. “We will spend a week, playing and talking about good things.”
Acharya told students that school uniform was not compulsory for those who had lost their possessions and called for a minute’s silence for student Rupa Maharjan, 15, who was killed in the earthquake. Of the school’s 1,300 students, only half were present.
“We can understand their mood,” said Acharya. “Out of our 56 teachers, 16 of them have lost their houses completely and are still living outside.”
Though aid agencies and local authorities have tried to find alternatives, almost a million children across Nepal are still without classrooms.
Hari Prasad Aryal, the district education officer of Gorkha district, the epicentre of the 25 April quake, said almost 80% of the area’s schools resumed classes on Sunday though few students attended. Almost all the schools in the district had been severely damaged.
“In those areas where people are living away from their villages in camps, we have asked school administrations to run temporary schools at the area where people have been staying,” he said.
The task of rebuilding tens of thousands of schools is a huge burden for Nepal. Officials have said total reconstruction costs for the country will be $7bn (£4.6bn), a third of the annual GDP. Some estimates are as high as $20bn. Millions have been left homeless.
In Dolakha district, which was badly hit in the second earthquake, about half of the 450 schools reopened on Sunday, with around half their students attending on average, said the district education chief, Lok Bahadur Lopchan.
“We are running schools from a temporary shelters,” Lopchan said. “We are hoping more students will come to school in coming days.”
In Khokana, parents described children who were still frightened of being inside. Gita Shahi, 35, said her seven-year-old daughter was afraid. “We are still living in the field under the tarpaulins, ” she said. However, Sabina Shahi, 11, said she was pleased to see her friends again. “It’s better to be in the school though I am scared of another earthquake,” she said.
Unicef has warned the disaster could reverse the progress Nepal has made in education over the last 25 years, during which primary school enrolment has risen from 64% to more than 95%. “The longer children stay home, the more difficult it will be for them to return to school,” Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef’s Nepal representative, told AFP.
Chhori Laxmi Maharjan, a clinical psychologist at the Ankur counselling centre, Kathmandu, said going to school would help children. “What they were doing before the earthquake was going to school, playing with friends and having a certain routine,” Maharjan said. “This will help them them heal.”
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