Eight-year-old Afaq Ahmed had a traumatic experience last year when Mohib Banda village in Nowshera district was hit by devastating floods. His family woke up at midnight by the rushing water. His father, amidst roaring torrents, dragged him to a tree which he tied to a boulder at some distance on elevated ground.
Afaq fell down once in the water and was rescued by his father. He and his family had to spend at least three days at the mercy of the flood waters. The water retreated but the split second shock left Afaq with hydrophobia; fear of water which eventually led to a cycle of sleepless nights. Little Afaq was unable to free his mind of the horrifying experiences.
Mohib Banda is a non-descript village where open fields of wheat surround dusty streets.
The villagers on their own could not afford to provide psychological counseling to their children who had been traumatized by the entire experience.
“I still fear water, although not as frequently as before,” Afaq told The Express Tribune. Since the past few months, Afaq has been spending time with several other village children at the Child Friendly Spaces (CFS)-a project of Society for the Protection of the Rights of Children (Sparc). Sparc Regional Manager, Jahanzeb Khan informed The Express Tribune that his organisation has set up at least ten similar centres in the flood-affected areas of Nowshera and Charsadda district since December last year.
“These centres are catering to out-of-school and school-going children in two shifts during the day,” he said. These centres are providing psycho social support, life skills, hygiene promotion, recreational activities, non-formal education and nutrition to the children, Jahanzeb said.
He said such centres have been set up in Mohib Banda, Nowshera Kalan, Pir Sabak I and II and Zara Maina areas of Nowshera district, Harisara, Solai Kamar, Utmanzai, Tnagi and Mian Sahib Ghari areas of Charsadda district. “At least 1008 boys and girls are enrolled in Nowshera centers, while 831 are in Charsadda centres,” he added.
In addition to food, non-formal education and playing activities, a qualified psychologist holds sessions with them once a week to address their problems. Each centre employs two facilitators; a female and a male social mobilizer, who works with the local community to enroll their children at these centres.
Ziaur Rehman, a social mobilizer at the Zara Maina center, said the area was facing the largest dropout rate. Most children leave schools after passing primary and start helping their parents in earning a livelihood.
“There is very little awareness about importance of education among the people of this area,” he said. But after months of holding sessions, parents are finally contemplating a good future for their children, he said. They are also visiting the centres with interest to check on their child’s progress. The centres provide a lively and non-formal learning platform for the troubled children of the flood-hit areas.
An elder of the Zara Maina village, Alamzeb Khan, said the programme should be made permanent. He said it has proved to be very useful for children and have relieved their parents of their worries.
Commenting on the middle school in the village, he said, “It has been upgraded to a high school about two years ago, but there is still no staff. For a better future of our next generation, the government should appoint teachers to this school,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2011.