The Singapore Red Cross (SRC) estimates that about 4,000 schools were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Two years on, rebuilding these schools has proven to be an important but challenging task.
LALITPUR, Nepal: Nestled in the hills of Nepal’s Lalitpur district, a two-hour drive from the capital Kathmandu, the Gyanodaya Basic School lives up to its name.
One of the classrooms, housed in the school’s only original building standing after 2015’s devastating earthquake, is a dark, cavernous space. Two naked bulbs provide barely enough light.
Another classroom is a shelter constructed entirely of zinc sheets and bamboo. The gaps between the walls and ceiling allow more natural
Still, the young schoolchildren light up the place with beaming smiles as they show visitors round, giggling in excitement as their lessons are temporarily interrupted.
Their infectious joy is still in place, even though rebuilding work at the school – which has just under 200 students aged 3 to 14 – has yet to begin, more than two years after the 7.8-magnitude quake caused widespread devastation across the country.
“The school buildings were completely destroyed here,” said Gyanodaya’s principal Yadav Mahat, gesturing to a large pile of rubble near the entrance to the school compound. “Students’ homes were also completely destroyed, and two of them died in their own homes.”
“There were many organisations that came to help provide temporary relief. They came to distribute zinc sheets and bamboo that we used to build temporary shelters and start teaching,” he added. “But no one actually came to build the buildings.”
“Due to financial reasons, we have not been able to do anything.
STUDENTS SCARED TO COME BACK TO SCHOOL
The Gyanodaya Basic School is one of the 44 schools the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) has committed to help rebuild, together with the assistance of its more than 15 partners on the ground. These 44 schools make up about three-quarters of the 60 community rebuilding projects SRC is on track to deliver by the end of this year.
About 4,000 schools in Nepal were destroyed in the quake, according to SRC’s Secretary-General Benjamin William. “One thing we noticed when we visited Nepal was that there were so many children and they were all having to study in temporary facilities,” he said. “So we thought this could be a good area to focus on.
“For one, it met an immediate need, where we can send the children back to school, and second, that we would be sending the right message: that education is so important for the next generation of Nepalese.”
But with some classes still taking place in damaged buildings, temporary shelters or even under trees, getting students back to school in the interim could be a challenge.
“After the earthquake, the students were so scared to come back to school,” said Kalpana Chhetry, chairperson of Praramva, a local NGO which has partnered with SRC to rebuild Gyanodaya. “It was a good thing the quake happened on a Saturday, otherwise there would have been a lot of damage. But even now, people are still afraid that if they go to school, they may not come back.
“So there was a big drop out of students.”
And if the children drop out from school, she added, they will likely just stay at home to do housework or care for livestock. The girls would get married at a young age, or, in some cases, could be at risk of human trafficking.
“After the quake, there was more trafficking,” she said. “Some parents were very poor and had to sell their girls to India to become prostitutes.”
THE ‘STRONGEST BUILDING IN THE DISTRICT’
The narrative takes a slightly different turn over at the Shree Kalika Primary School in Sindhupalchowk, another district in Nepal which was one of the most badly affected by the quake.
As is the case in Lalitpur, some of its pupils trek for hours across challenging terrain to get to school. But at the end of their journey, they are greeted by a brand new school building with bright yellow walls and freshly painted doors and windows.