“During the earthquake, I was afraid. I was worried something bad would happen and I’d no longer be able to study,” says Manju, 13, from Dolakha, Nepal. Dolakha was one of the districts most impacted by the earthquakes that destroyed Nepal in April and May. They affected over 85% of the population, while more than 50,000 homes were damaged.
Manju lost her home and her school. The teenager now lives in a temporary shelter with her mother and father made up of iron sheets and studies in a temporary learning centre, built by Plan International.
Manju walks nearly 45 minutes through the remote mountainous region to reach the temporary learning centre, crossing valleys and rivers just to get to her destination.
“There’s a bridge which we have to cross slowly as we are afraid it will collapse. Many of the roads are slippery,” she explains.
Despite the challenging journey, Manju understands the value of an education and is thankful for her parents’ continued support. “Education is necessary to remove the many misconceptions that exist in our community. Many countries have moved forward through education. I want to stay here and study,” says Manju.
Manju is just one of thousands of girls whose education was interrupted when the earthquakes devastated Nepal, collapsing more than 35,000 classrooms. Temporary learning centres have become a safe place for children, where they can meet with their friends, forget about their worries and, of course, learn.
The earthquakes destroyed Manju’s school. One classroom block collapsed. The other classroom, covered with cracks and holes, was deemed unsafe by the government. Only one small classroom remained. “At the beginning, there were problems. Every time there was an earthquake, the children would run outside for fear that the classroom walls would collapse again,” says Tritha.
The temporary learning centres now sit adjacent to the damaged schools. They are made of bamboo and tarpaulins and equipped with furniture, stationery and materials, so teachers can continue their lessons. In the last six months, Plan International has built 282 temporary learning centres, enabling 18,353 children, like Manju, to resume their education quickly.
“After the temporary learning centre was established, things gradually got better. Without Plan International’s support, it would have been difficult to educate our children. Now they don’t fear aftershocks as much and they are excited to come to school again,” adds Tritha.
Tritha is now working in partnership with Plan International and the District Education Office to build a ‘safe school’ in his village. He is determined to make the structure a model school – one that can be replicated by neighbouring villages. He wants to ensure it is structurally safe and earthquake resistant. Tritha will also educate students and teachers on disaster preparedness through simulations, drills and activities.
In an emergency, adolescent girls often face the brunt of the crisis and face the double discrimination of being both young and female. Many girls fails to return to school.
“In so many places, there is discrimination between men and women. Men get respect and women face discrimination,” says Manju. “I want my future to be better. I don’t want to drop out of school. I want to be an example to other girls in my village and become a journalist.”
Manju’s mother and father are both supportive of their daughter’s desire to complete her education.
“No matter how much misery we go through, we need to educate our children. If they get some kind of job, they won’t have to spend their lives doing menial chores like us,” says Manju’s mother, Shanta. “Our parents’ used to ask, ‘What does a girl get from an education?’ Now we are concerned about the future of our children.”
One of the best ways to protect girls is to keep them in school. Girls who are given the opportunity to study are less likely to fall prey to trafficking, child marriage or child labour.
“I want to encourage parents to send children to school. Girls are equal to boys and should be educated too. Girls can be the future of this nation, as well,” says Manju.