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On 25 April 2015, Nepal was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes, and public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals were destroyed. The district of Sindhupalchok, east of Kathmandu, was particularly hard hit: 90% of all houses and schools were destroyed or badly damaged.
Emergency relief immediately after the earthquake
Caritas Switzerland was on the spot from the beginning and supplied emergency relief. Together with other Caritas organisations, Caritas Switzerland distributed 6,000 tarpaulins, 24,000 blankets and 1,150 tents as well as 10 health kits, which ensure access to minimum healthcare for 30,000 people for three months.
To enable the children to resume lessons as quickly as possible, Caritas Switzerland and Helvetas erected 200 temporary classrooms for 6,500 children. ‘After the earthquake, I didn’t want to go to school anymore’, remembers 15-year-old Nirmala. ‘I was so frightened that the school building would collapse during an aftershock and that I would die. But then my friends told me that someone had built temporary schools and that we would be given books if we went. So I went.’
Long-term aid: 36 new, earthquake-resistant schools
In November 2015, Caritas and Helvetas started with the reconstruction of 36 permanent school buildings for 6,500 students. All schools are also being equipped with access to clean drinking water and appropriate sanitary facilities. The local community is closely involved in the construction – parents, teaching staff and pupils give their views about the construction plans, are kept informed about the building progress, and are given training in the correct maintenance of the schools. The project is supported by Swiss Solidarity and partners from the international Caritas network. In addition, for five schools which are under construction as of spring 2018, Helvetas and Caritas can count on the support of the Swiss Red Cross.
School as a place of safety
Many children were traumatised after the earthquake – there is great fear of a renewed earthquake or other natural disasters. School should be a safe place. Therefore, Caritas Switzerland has drawn up individual disaster risk preparedness plans and conducts training sessions with the pupils on how to act in the event of a disaster. In addition, Caritas carries out awareness-raising campaigns in hygiene in order to prevent hygiene-related diseases.
More than just infrastructure: Enabling children to attend school
The rural population in Sindhupalchok is very poor. Following the earthquake, the risk of child labour has increased, since the families affected have to find ways of coping with their material losses. Our aim is to enable all children in the project area to go to school. To this end, we conduct campaigns that stress the importance of education and create an understanding of the possible consequences of child labour and early marriage. Furthermore, particularly vulnerable families are given individual support. As a result, more than 70 children who had previously not attended school were able to regularly participate in lessons. For many children, a good education is the only way out of the cycle of poverty. Nirmala, too, wants to build a better future for herself.
Caritas Switzerland intends to rebuild 36 schools by mid-2019, at a total cost of 15 million Swiss francs.