Unicef formally opened 16 new primary schools in a ceremony in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday, as part of an ambitious program to construct almost 700 schools following the devastating 2005 earthquake.
Unicef constructed the 16 schools in Muzaffarabad and Bagh districts, with significant financial support from the European Union (EU), in support of the Government of Pakistan’s “Build Back Better” programme.
The new schools are beautiful, modern structures that are resistant to earthquakes and designed with child-friendly features. Each student in these schools will get a minimum space that is in line with international standards. The schools have been furnished with high quality furniture and educational material. The schools have separate toilets for girls and boys, solid boundary walls, and ramps and railings that facilitate access to physically-challenged children.
Unicef and its NGO partners — Bulandi and ABES — have also engaged with teachers, mothers’ support groups and school management committees to ensure community participation.
Unicef plans to build 691 permanent and pre-fabricated schools in earthquake-affected areas with the support of the EU and other donors. These will benefit around 65,000 children. Of the more than 560 schools constructed to date, 84 permanent and 52 pre-fabricated schools have been completed with financial support from the EU.
EU Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark was among the special guests at the inauguration ceremony at Government Girls Primary School Sherwan in Muzaffarabad District. Director of Public Instruction Rakhshanda Nadeen, along with the Secretary-Director General of the State Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency Liaqat Hussain, and Unicef Deputy Representative Karen Allen, schools’ principals and staff, along with parents and students of Sherwan School were also present on the occasion.
Ambassador Wigemark said, “This is the year of education in Pakistan, which is a priority for the EU, especially primary education. Education is indeed the basis for a well-functioning and economically striving community and society, for girls and boys in an equally important way.”
Allen said that the school reconstruction programme could not have taken place without the invaluable support of the European Union and other major donors.
“It is extremely pleasing to be able to make a real tangible difference in children’s lives. The construction of these modern school facilities is a great step forward. The schools, together with the child-friendly schooling approach, will allow tens of thousands of children to exercise their right to an education and give their young minds the opportunity to grow and develop. That is the real treasure we are celebrating.”
Officials of the State Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency, which is mandated with the supervision of the reconstruction programme in earthquake-affected areas, told The Express Tribune that out of the 195 schools that Unicef had agreed to build in the disaster-hit areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, it had completed construction of 130 educational institutions in the last three years.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2011.