Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh); November 25, 2007: There has been no formal christening for them. You could call them ‘extensions of human kindness’, ‘temporary learning kiosks’ or maybe just ‘succor platforms’ set-up for the children of flood-displaced families of Uttar Pradesh.
This July, floods hit the eastern and northern part of the state with fury, leaving hundreds dead and millions homeless. Children, victims of this natural calamity, lost the roof over their heads and also found themselves without schools that used to provide them with shelter and one square meal a day. The school buildings were either washed away or rendered unsafe for use due to intense water damage. As the elders in the affected families got busy trying to pick up the threads of life once again, these children found themselves in a vacuum. A bleak, dark future loomed large over them.
This is when UNICEF, stepped in to help. UNICEF was already engaged in extensive flood relief operations providing water, shelter, hygiene and sanitation in the flood-affected districts. In partnership with the state’s Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK), UNICEF set up 58 temporary learning centers in remote villages of Barabanki and Bahraich – the two worst affected districts of UP. More than three thousand primary school children have already benefited from this effort..
Each centre was equipped with a teacher and a helper. Every child at the center was provided a school bag with reading and writing material, along with a daily packet of glucose biscuits as a substitute for the mid-day meal that their regular school used to provide. The children also had access to indoor games like ludo and carrom.
Though initially established for one month (15 October to 15 November), the programme was extended for another 15 days on demand of children and parents alike.
UNICEF State Representative Dr Nimal Hettiarchy, drove 90 odd kilometers on bumpy roads that still bore the ravages of the floods, to inspect these centers in Barabanki., “We realized the urgent need to fill in the gap and provide these children a school ambience where they could not only continue their education, but also unwind from the trauma of the tragedy, play together and later go back to their regular schools once they are fully operational,” he said.
“We took up a project of this nature for the first time, so we began on a small scale. We packaged these informal learning centers with play, food and books. It was an experiment, but one which has worked. We realized it was a healthy way of sustaining the interest of the children,” explained Vinobajee Gautam, Education Specialist, UNICEF.
Love and care is a balm that can heal any wound. These children, most of who hail from socially excluded groups living in marginalized areas, have tasted the soothing touch of human kindness. This is perhaps something they will remember for the rest of their lives.