Khyber crisis: keeping children safe
“There was heavy bombing in our village and I saw people getting hurt in the crossfire. My family decided to leave for Bara [in Pakistan’s Khyber Agency] but there was fighting there as well.
“There were large explosions at night and my father decided it was unsafe to stay there. We left early the next morning with all our belongings and reached Peshawar after a few hours.”
It was strange to hear the calm voice of ten-year-old Ahmed as he narrated his ordeal. We met in one of Save the Children’s temporary learning centres; established as a safe educational and play area for children recently displaced from their homes in Khyber Agency.
World turns a blind eye
Ahmed is just one of an estimated 250,000 people who have been forced to move from their homes in the Khyber Agency as a result of the escalating conflict in the region.
Yet, lost in the cacophony of daily protests against rising fuel prices, the shortage of basic amenities and the daily death toll in Karachi, few in Pakistan have heard of this crisis.
Children out of school
On my visit to one community in a village on the outskirts of Peshawar, I found more than a dozen families from Khyber Agency living there.
Twenty people shared a house with two rooms: a squalid kitchen floor and one toilet. With no school to attend, most children roam around the streets during the day.
Among the communities there is a very real fear that children who have dropped out might never return to school when, and if, they go back home.
“I miss my school and friends”
The temporary learning centre set up by Save the Children is helping to provide basic education for out-of-school children and helping enrol those who have dropped out.
Importantly, it also provides a safe playing space for children, like Ahmed, to spend their time rather than loitering in unfamiliar and potentially dangerous neighbourhoods.
Ultimately though, such spaces can only provide a stop gap for children caught up in the conflict.
“I really wish I could return home soon.” said Ahmed. “I miss my school and friends.”
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