In rural Bangladesh, a journey to school-led disaster risk reduction begins

Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Frequently beset by different types of disaster such as: floods, cyclonic storm, tidal surge, riverbank erosion, earthquakes and drought, the country often experiences interruption in its education sector.[1] The calamities damage school infrastructure and displace children and their family. Floods, cyclones and river erosion severely damage 900 schools and 4,666 schools were affected by disasters annually. Cyclones had adverse impact on the education of 1.5 million children during 2014-16.[2] All these impede country’s pathway to education development and therefore, safe school is essential before, during and after emergencies.

A mother with two children wading through the floodwater in Bangladesh

Girls and boys in Nageswari sub-district of Kurigram district, in the northern part of Bangladesh share the hardship with their folks across the nation. When it comes to access to their school, they have to cope with cyclone, drought, floods and river erosion compounded with poor road quality – classes missed, school drop-out high and education disrupted. Poverty hits hard their char land community. Their families, mostly landless, live on a low income. Boys are likely to be forced to emigrate to work while girls to be married off when a disaster strikes.

In 2018, Plan International, ESDO, the local partner and local authorities decided to work together in three unions in the area to promote safe school in selected 12 schools, aimed at minimizing disaster impacts and promoting equal access for girls and boys to safer education and learning environment. We work with schools, children and teachers mainly on: capacity building of school community to form student-led taskforce to do search and rescue, drills, psychosocial support; community engagement to form youth groups and youth-led advocacy with union disaster management committee for DRR budget allocation and education continuity; and small scale mitigation – initiating safe route for disabled students and improving water and sanitation facilities.

From the front, Kachakata Secondary School, the so-called “school number 13”, non-target school that is motivated by the implementation of school safety implementation in other schools

School number 13: knowledge drives actions

Kachakata Secondary School is one of the oldest schools in Nageswari sub-district under Kurigram district. Established in 1952, the school sits by the river bank and is prone to floods, cyclone, drought, lightening and earthquake. The school was not a project target school, nor had it been technically supported in the past, hence “school number 13”, so team says. The journey to school safety started with the interest of the head teacher, Mr. Nuruzzaman Kabir simply because he joined and observed the process of Plan-initiated safe school training, drills and formation of disaster taskforce in other school. He witnessed for himself that after the technical assistance provided, the school had demonstrated positive changes: the infrastructure had improved, students’ DRR knowledge had increased and the loss of property and fatality rate were reduced.

A local partner training on school-based disaster preparedness

“As the community is facing repeated disasters, it [safe school] is really crucial to minimize loss. By understanding hazards and vulnerability, students can make a plan to reduce losses and more importantly, save themselves and others. They can raise the awareness among their family members. The transformation of knowledge from students can spill over to community and build resilience”, Mr. Kabir expressed.

 

Returning back to his school, he was determined to start a safe school project in the school premise. With the local partner’s support, he trained practical skills to his students on how to administer first aid, operate search and rescue and replicated the sound practices: conducting hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessment (HVCA), developing school safety plan, forming school disaster management committee (SDMC), and raising awareness of menstrual hygiene practices. Female students also raised their voice to establish a sanitary pad shop in school to prevent them from missing out on school.

 

Shamina, Sani mart and Girl’s education

 

“I know better now about menstrual hygiene management during school time. Previously, girls chose not to attend classes and to leave school when they were in their menstrual periods. As the sanitation pad shop is there, girls feel more comfortable to stay in school” 

Shamima, a 16 year-old girl, a student taskforce leader, testified how grateful she was for herself and her friends, having access to the so-called “Sani Mart”, a shop or a system established in school to ensure the provision of sanitary pads for girls. The shop was originally initiated by girls and it works through a mere contribution of 10 Taka from each girl to purchase a batch of sanitary pads. It is normally located in a bathroom where girls can buy sanitary pads at a low price. The profit collected is invested back to replenish the stock and the intervention showed a positive impact of keeping girls in school. The attendance rate reaches up to 95% now. Girls are now given choices whether to use sanitary pads or their clothes as disposal system is slowly improved and space to clean, wash and dry up their clothes is made available.

Apart from life-saving skills she gained in times of floods and earthquake, Shamima felt that hygiene practices and promotion in schools and communities are critical to fulfil girls’ right to education. She realized the importance of increasing her peers’ capacity and removing all barriers for them to stay in school.

 

School’s continued journey to safety 

 

As the contingency plan was established, Mr. Kabir shared that school authority was able to continue the education when floods struck. Students have supported the community to find safe places and raised their voice to advocate local government on community disaster preparedness. However, the school still needs technical and financial resources to sustain DRR activities moving forward and persistently engaging with the union disaster management committee and local authorities can be one of the ways to gather supports.

[1] Dr. Monirul Islam and Hashnat Badshah, “Vulnerability Analysis of Bangladesh due to Multiple Natural Hazards Using GIS Technique”, retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264534814_Vulnerability_Analysis_of_Bangladesh_Due_To_Multiple_Natural_Hazards_Using_GIS_Technique

[2] https://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/natural-disasters-and-uninterrupted-education-1280044

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