Buildings of three government schools in Banskharka VDC, Sindhupalchok — Shree Bhim Bidya Ashram Secondary School, Shree Bal Bikash Primary School, and Shree Janahit Lower Secondary School — collapsed due to the Gorkha earthquake in 2015. The students were forced to study under tents and even inside unsafe classrooms. Seven months later, they have earthquake resistant steel framed classrooms, painted in light blue and green colours, where they can study without any disturbances and feel safe.
Childreach Nepal, that works for children, has constructed 20 classrooms for these schools (two for Shree Bal Bikash, four for Shree Janahit, and 14 for Shree Bhim Bidya Ashram), working with the Government. In an event held on February 4 at Shree Bhim Bidya Ashram Secondary School, Childreach Nepal handed over the newly constructed classrooms to these schools.
The classrooms were inaugurated by Maha Jodi Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya along with Dr Dilli Ram Rimal, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Education.
“It is the biggest relief. We have, at least, been able to assure the education of the children and we have kept a hope alive in the village that things can be done,” Dr Tshering Lama, Country Director of Chidreach Nepal expressed after the handing over ceremony adding, “To see the children’s faces today, and the communities and people coming together (in the event), it feels like an achievement.”
Childreach Nepal reached Sindupalchowk after three days of the quake. Amidst all the devastation, they were wondering about the conditions and whereabouts of children when an interesting incident happened. He recalls, “We were running a relief camp in Melamchi after the quake. Children came to the camp asking us to teach them at six in the morning. It was really moving.”
They initially started temporary learning centres in tarpaulins and bamboos structures. But this was not “the gift” they wanted to give to the children. Also, they wanted to “keep the children in the school as soon as possible” as child trafficking and other problems are common in the time of crises like earthquake.
As per Dr Lama, “If the children are in schools, they are 80 per cent less likely to be trafficked.”
And these children have received their gift — classrooms made of steel structure. Each 678-square-feet steel unit contains two classrooms that can accommodate between 60 and 80 children. The lightweight galvanised steel studs form the framework of the units. Its exterior cladding is made from PVC coated steel that does not require maintenance for at least 30 years. The walls have cement fibre coat, which is light with 50 years warranty as well as is fire resistant. For insulation, ply has been used.
“It is something better than they had before. As it is earthquake resistant, children don’t have to run whenever earthquake strikes. Children have fall down and injured themselves while running to escape during previous quakes,” Dr Lama added.
Satisfied on being able to ensure education on this part of Sindhupalchowk, he is also happy with the teachers and headmasters on their “sense of ownership” as they were very much involved and have contributed in the construction works.
These schools have also been conceptualised as a centre for community development where peoplecan take emergency shelters if another such quake strikes.
“We are feeling safe here,” Jitman Dong, Principal of Shree Bhim Bidya Ashram Secondary School said about the new classrooms, reasoning, “Classrooms are good, safe and have better environment.”
When the classes started from June 2015 as per District Education Office’s order, tents had become their classrooms which were “hot, and water leaked from above and the bottom used to be water logged. Children would also tear and damage the tents”.
Tenth grader Ram Syangbo of the same school recalled, “While studying under tents, we faced lots of disturbances. If one class was in full swing, it disturbed the other class or vice versa. The noise passed across classrooms easily and sometimes it was oxen on loose. Those classes had no aeration and were hot. As we couldn’t study properly, we told the teachers to shift us to unsafe building despite the danger it posed.”
Syangboo is “not the only one who is happy but the whole school is excited”. Attending classes in the fragile building, Class IX student of the same school, Raj Syangbo reminisced, “We were very scared as we did not know when another quake would strike. The whole building would shake even if there was minor movement.” He doesn’t have to study in fear now.
Compared to the classrooms made of stones and mud that were destroyed by the quake, Principal of Shree Janahit Lower Secondary School, Aalok Kumar Syangbo feels they have “got better school. I hope the physical infrastructure helps students receive quality education”.
Students and teachers are on cloud nine, and so are the parents. Punyewati Shrestha, mother of Pujan and Pujani, who study in Class II and class I respectively in Shree Bhim Bidya School is happy too. “The new classes are safe with good facilities. They were studying under tents which were not water resistant and they had to deal with dirt and dust,” she shared with happiness.
With these classrooms, students are back to where they belong to.
Childreach Nepal has signed MoU with Ministry of Education to build 100 such classrooms in Sindhupalchowk. With the completion of the first round of construction of buildings in Banskharka VDC, they will now start construction in Thangpaldhap and Thangpalkot of Sindhupalchowk. And in this phase, they will construct classrooms with even better features.
A version of this article appears in print on February 06, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.