Emergency Shelter in Pakistan: Babies are being changed in the chemistry lab

Nine families are in the class of economics teacher Saeeda Sheikh. School desks lie on the blue wall, and piles of blankets lie on the concrete floor. The children running around are too young to take the business classes the sheikh teaches at the State College for Girls for their final year teens and young women preparing for university studies.

Read also Pakistanis because of the floods in tents or on the side of the road: ‘I was afraid we would be filled with water’

Instead of students, the public educational institution in Hyderabad – a city of 1.7 million people – is now filled with IDPs from outside the country. Elsewhere in Pakistan’s Sindh province, people who fled the worst floods in the country’s history have taken shelter in a girls’ school. They have been there since the end of August, about two weeks after the start of the school year. The building now accommodates approximately 1,200 people. Education stopped for 3,000 registered students.

“As the principal of a school, you have a responsibility. But I did not prepare myself for these tasks,” Khali sighs faintly in her office, which is also a staff room. Lessons are not given under these conditions, but teachers still want to keep an eye on things, they say. They can’t deny that they feel overwhelmed by the situation.

In the hallway, the toilet block appears to have been flooded. Lab furniture is used in chemistry lab to change children’s clothes. In the yard, where badminton is usually played, there are piles of trash. Women set fire to landings, kneading dough on the floor, surrounded by flies.

How do displaced people end up in school? The teachers present had different explanations: A local aid organization advised distressed refugees to seek shelter in government institutions, one said. Another says it was because of social media. Is it government policy to use public buildings in emergency situations? The director was not informed, she said: The first refugees arrived on Sunday.

On demand, the provincial education ministry said more than 4,700 schools have been deployed in Sindh, the province worst affected by the floods, to accommodate 60,000 families. This would equate to half a million people. Educational institutions were designated as reception centers before or after the arrival of IDPs. Official authorities such as the Disaster Authority are concerned with distributing foodstuffs and medicines in schools. A room was created in the girls’ college for this purpose.

In the economics teacher’s room happy sheikh Now nine families are displaced from the floods inundated by Khairpur.
Photo by Lisa Dupuy

Lal Khatoum, 34, has now been in the economics class with her children for the past two weeks. She came to Hyderabad from a village on the outskirts of Khairpur, about 300 kilometers to the north, “absolutely terrified of the water”. During the 2010 flood, she also ended up here via detours. “Now I knew right away: we have to go to school.”

She took the seals of three daughters and two sons, ages four to seventeen. She proudly says her children are in “first and last grade”. She herself completed the fifth grade of primary education, but she wants her children to advance in school. She looks at the clean board in desperation. “I am fully aware that we are suspending studies here. Only… my children cannot go to school now. Or even to their homes.” The school has running water, toilets and electricity.

The teachers’ lounge agreed that in the event of a humanitarian problem of this magnitude, all facilities should be deployed. For this reason, people were also looked after at the “little brother” of the girls’ school, the Boys’ College, a few blocks away. The school’s principal, Haqnawuz Abbas, says the institution was closed to students for five days. Since then many refugees have left or returned to their homes or to refugee camps elsewhere. Dozens of the remaining displaced are staying on the second floor. Eight free classes again, students have a modified schedule. Elsewhere in Hyderabad, a teacher knows that classes have been set up for refugee children. “But not every institution can arrange such a thing.”

disaster in education

There is uncertainty about the duration of emergency measures. Teacher Sheikh receives calls from students worried about their future. The council considered resuming online lessons due to the Corona pandemic, but decided not to because not all students have internet at home. We do not want inequality between our population. It is already unfair that in establishments where there is no reception, everything proceeds as usual. While all students eventually have to take the same test to continue studying at the university.”

Even those private schools, which the government has nothing to say about, are now concerned about the repercussions of the floods. For example, a special umbrella organization in Karachi reported last week to parents about the growing number of dengue cases. Mosquitoes that spread disease breed in stagnant water, including in residual rain ponds. Health workers are reporting more cases across Sindh. To prevent infection in private schools in Karachi, students are now required to wear long sleeves and outdoor activities have been canceled for the time being.

“Besides the humanitarian disaster, there is also a disaster in education,” the provincial ministry wrote in response. An earlier official update on the floods revealed that 7,000 schools were submerged, and thousands of buildings were partially damaged. More than four million children from affected communities are out of school. In addition, intermittent teaching programs. On Tuesday, the Sindh government decided that this “difficult” situation must end: shelter must be moved from schools to tent camps, “so that normal activities can be resumed”. Temporary education will be arranged in a shelter for displaced children.

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