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Students Moving On from Fear in Nepal

June 2, 2015

Toward a brighter future

With steps of deep courage, children across Nepal are returning to school this week for the first time since an earthquake struck the region on April 25. The massive earthquake killed more than 8,6000 people, destroyed entire communities, and shattered local school systems. UUSC has teamed up with Chetana, a teacher-run partner organization in Nepal, to ensure that students’ human right to education is restored.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, approximately a million children have been severely affected by the earthquake. More than 32,000 classrooms have been destroyed, and officials have estimated that roughly $24.1 million is needed to construct new learning centers to accommodate students.

In recent decades, Nepal has taken many steps to further education, increasing primary school enrollment from 64% to 95% since 1990. However, literacy levels are still among the lowest in Asia, with a disproportionate effect on Nepali women. Nepal’s entrenched political, economic, and social fabric has also prevented children who are traditionally discriminated against (such as Dalit children) from having meaningful access to schooling.

Nepal relief efforts made possible by the UUSC-UUA Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund have prioritized quality education for vulnerable children both in the emergency and in longer-term recovery plans. We recognize that local teachers who understand the culture, politics, and barriers know best how to address students’ unique needs. This is one of the reasons that our Rights at Risk Program chose to partner with Chetana, an organization run by teachers whose mission is to create a friendly and enabling school environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as well as girls and children from remote areas and castes that are discriminated against, such as Dalits. Chetana is committed to ensuring that these children have equal access to education and the opportunity to resume their lives.

Even as the tremors continued after the initial earthquake, Chetana staff sprung into action and began working around the clock to distribute relief aid kits and school aid kits. In partnership with UUSC, Chetana has been working over the past month to set up temporary classrooms in the affected Gorkha, Lamjung, and Tanahu districts, where respective student populations are 38%, 70%, and more than 80% Dalit. They have also made provisions to serve midday meals for the displaced students. Chetana hopes to reach roughly 450 students through three temporary classrooms that will begin their sessions this week.

Resuming normal life is one step of the healing process after a disaster of this sizable proportion. Schools offer a safe place for children and often play a critical role in offering respite and distraction that can help children transition back to daily life. In emergency situations like that in Nepal, schools can serve to keep children away from trafficking and child labor predators — a task that is especially vital to ensure the safety of young girls.

Throughout the coming months, it will be critical for teachers from Chetana and other aid organizations to be equipped to address the severe emotional and mental trauma that many children will face and continue to face throughout the aftershocks. UUSC and the Trauma Resource Institute, our U.S.-based partner, will hold a community-based trauma resiliency training in August for community workers and professionals from local nongovernmental organizations. Stay tuned for more information about this and other relief and recovery work in Nepal.

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