The earthquake that struck central Nepal on April 25 was bad enough, but then another major quake hit two-and-a-half weeks later, causing even more physical — and psychological — damage, said one aid worker.
“Parents were telling their kids, ‘Don’t worry, the big earthquake is gone, it’s over,’” said Kent Page of UNICEF who recently returned from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to help assess school damages. “People were starting to dig out of the rubble and restart their lives when the second earthquake hit (on May 12) and that shook people up in an emotional way, perhaps more than the first one.”
So, the opening of some temporary schools this week provided not just needed education but a symbol of recovery as well, he said.
About 14,000 children began their education again, five weeks after the initial earthquake, in 137 temporary learning centers. The centers — provided by the Nepalese government, UNICEF and other groups — were constructed with bamboo frames covered with tarpaulins and mats lining the floor.
Supplies include papers, pens and books, along with recreational equipment such as soccer balls and jump ropes.
Teachers were trained to talk to children who are having difficulty processing the trauma they experienced.
“They’re very scared that there will be another big earthquake,” Page said. “They’ve seen all the damage earthquakes can do. They know friends who have been killed or injured.”
From previous disasters, UNICEF learned that children can recover quickly if they feel they are in a safe place, are cared for and have a sense of routine that school can provide.
And when children are attending school, it frees up their parents to do what they have to do to put food on the table and rebuild their own lives, Page added.
An estimated 980,000 children are still out of school in Nepal, and about 4,700 temporary schools are needed to accommodate them, he said. The government and organizations are trying to get as many learning centers set up as soon as possible before monsoon season starts at the end of June. “The areas most severely affected are in remote areas accessible by dirt roads which will be impassable when the rains begin.”
Adding to the challenge, Page explained, is the decentralized nature of the damage. Some towns were leveled. Others had scattered pockets of destruction, and still more escaped unscathed. “Slowly but surely more temporary learning spaces will be built, more schools structurally assessed and, gradually, more and more kids will get back to school.”
View a U.N. interactive map on the earthquakes in Nepal and their aftermath.