I have been Country Lead for Nepal in the GPE Secretariat since January last year. I am also personally deeply connected to the country as I lived and worked here for three years before joining the GPE Secretariat. So this is both a personal as well as professional account of the current situation in Nepal.
The recent earthquakes have claimed over 8,000 lives. The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment estimates that the recovery needs at US$ 6.6 billion.
The objective of my trip was twofold: to understand the current challenges the education system is facing due to the earthquakes, and to participate in the Joint Annual Review (JAR) of the education sector which the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education managed to organize despite the country’s recent hardships.
The Ministry and the development partners undertake field visits as part of the JAR every year, before the official meetings start. This year’s focus was to appreciate the situation of school reopening, and to understand how the ongoing school retrofitting has helped prevent major damages. After nearly a month of closures, schools in the earthquake-affected districts welcomed students back on May 31st.
It was great to see children back in school at the Shree Bhagyoday Higher Secondary School in Kathmandu district (in Nepal, Higher Secondary means Grade 1-12).
The school has eight buildings. Here, Mr. Giridhar Mishra, an engineer from the District Education Office (DEO) Kathmandu, explains school construction and retrofitting methods to development partners. In the three districts of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, all of the retrofitted buildings withstood the earthquakes.
A teacher shows the attendance record, with a whole period crossed out (page on the left) because of the school closure after the earthquake. Even if classes have resumed, only around half of the students are back. Many who lost their homes in the earthquake have moved elsewhere with their families.
This building is still standing but is unsafe so children cannot study here at the moment.
A red sticker on the exterior wall of a building means it is unsafe.
Safe buildings are marked with a green sticker by the DEO engineers.
The village of Sankhu in Kathmandu District was heavily affected by the earthquake. In some parts of the town, there was rubble everywhere.
This is me in front of destroyed houses in Sankhu. It was reassuring but at the same time heartbreaking to see that people were trying to move on with their lives, even after having had lost so much.
In Harissidi village in Lalitpur District, some people were starting to clean up and recover their belongings. Because of the continuing aftershocks (they are still happening), many are scared to come back to their homes.
Even buildings that are still standing sustained significant damage. Notice the crack between buildings behind where this lady is sitting. Fortunately, the supply chain was not majorly affected by the earthquake. Major roads leading to Kathmandu were not cut, so food and gas are available. The first earthquake occurred on a Saturday at mid-day, when people were awake and schools were closed. It is scary to imagine how many children and teachers could have lost their lives if this had happened on a normal school day.
On top of rubble, some textbooks and school bag, probably dug out by someone.
This is a Temporary Learning Center in Khagendra New Life Special Education Secondary School in Kathmandu District. These temporary spaces are organized by schools/communities themselves, with material and technical support from the Ministry as well as organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children.
Khagendra New Life Special Education Secondary School is an inclusive school that welcomes many children with disabilities. Some of the teachers also live with disabilities. I met Minuka, a courageous girl, who is 21 years old and in class 4. Her classroom is damaged, so she is studying outside beneath a tarp.
The children in preschool also had to move to a temporary space.
At the Khantibhairab High School in Kathmandu District, there was a camp of displaced people in front of the school. While last year there were 600 students, this year, the school has around 900 students. Many children from heavily-affected districts came to Kathmandu, and are attending this school. 56 students in this school are now living in tents. Teachers estimate that it will take at least a year before families return to their original homes.
At the review, the Joint Secretary Dr. Lava Deo Awasthi gives a presentation on the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment of the education sector. With over 26,000 classrooms destroyed and a further 26,000 damaged, the education sector is facing tremendous challenges to restore these classrooms. The Ministry is committed to “Building Back Better”, so as to provide a safe and secure learning space for children in Nepal, with revised guidelines for construction. As many children are moving with their families because of the earthquake, the Ministry communicated to schools that this year, all public schools have to open doors to all children, no matter where they were originally enrolled in the beginning of the new school year. Dr. Lava also underscored the need to continue education reform implementation, as many of the districts were unaffected, and quality improvement needs to go on.
During the meeting with the development partners, the Honorable Minister Chitra Lekha Yadav affirmed: “Our commitment to education has not been shaken by the earthquakes”. She also underscored that the Ministry wants to reassure parents that their children are in safe and secure structures.
As in other years, the Joint Secretary and the development partners went to the Ministry of Finance, to meet Joint Secretary Madhu Marasini. They stressed that safeguarding and even increasing the budget allocation to education is important for recovery and to ensure that schools are safe. Partners also said that support from the Ministry of Finance will be key to secure the adoption of the amended Education Act as a foundation for the education reform.
In one of the displaced people’s camps in Bhaktapur Municipality, people have been living in tents and temporary shelters for nearly two months.It gets very hot during the day. But even if people don’t know what to do orwhere to go,they maintain their good spirit.
Large and well-organized tents look like this.
In a camp of displaced people in Bhaktapur Municipality, a teenage girl (far right) gets ready to go to school.
It was a relief to see in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhaktapur (old royal court), at least not all of the temples were gone. However, pictures are placed where temples once stood and certain structures are too unsafe to enter (see behind the children in the middle of the photo). How nice it was to see children on their way to school, almost like the way it used to be before. Everyone knows that things are not quite the same but smiles are returning to children’s faces.
At the Bhaktapur Municipality camp, I met two teenage boys who were volunteering. Purushottam (left) is 13 years old, and Tejan (right) 16. Every morning before going to school, they do a round of tents and take the names of occupants so that food can be distributed fairly in the evening by a charity organization. They themselves have been living in tents like these for the past two months after their homes were damaged. It was inspiring to meet them; apparently an amazing number of youth stood up in the midst of this national hardship. Nepal’s future is in good hands.