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Back To School?

South Asia floods: UK kids go back to school while others miss out

We’re fast approaching the first week of September and parents everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that our children – now wild, unkempt and unruly after 6 weeks off school – will return to the discipline, action, entertainment and fun of the UK school system. Days are choc-full of learning, creativity, socialising and energy expenditure that their teachers are paid to provide. Bless those wonderful, wonderful souls.

My to-do list is a mess of name-tag ironing, football boot-choosing, stationary kit deciding and bulk-hairband buying. We are finding violins, art folders and reading books. We (read: me) are hurriedly fitting all our homework (that we’ve had a full six weeks to complete) into two hours the night before term starts. I am frazzled. But I cannot complain. As this term in particular begins, my usual carefree complaints are underpinned by a faraway sense of worry of a different kind.

The worst flooding in 15 years has left South Asia’s children in limbo

While our little ones will all soon file neatly (read: rumbustiously) into their classrooms, I am reminded of the 1.8 million children out of school in South Asia due to the worst flooding in recent years.

At least 18,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed, putting these kids’ long-term education at risk, as well as their immediate health. The schools that haven’t been destroyed are being used as evacuation centres, as the floods continue to ravage large swathes of Bangladesh, Nepal and India’s northeast.

As I imagine watching my daughter’s neat-for-at-least-20-minutes pigtails disappear into a thronging mass of happily chatting, well-fed and clothed children, I am haunted by the regional death toll of South Asia, which now stands at over 1,200 with more than 40 million people affected.

We need to act now to prevent children from falling out of the education system

I wonder what we can do. When I think about what I can do, as a solo human being, as one mum lost in her thoughts, things start to fall apart.

On my own I’m not capable of much. But as part of a movement – like Save The Children – I am buoyed, that aid can be provided, that hope is possible.

We’re being warned that hundreds of thousands of children could fall permanently out of the school system if education isn’t prioritised in relief efforts.

Our General Manager in India’s Bihar state, Rafay Hussain said: “We haven’t seen flooding on this scale in years and it’s putting the long-term education of an enormous number of children at great risk. From our experience, the importance of education is often under-valued in humanitarian crises and we simply cannot let this happen again. We cannot go backwards.”

“We know that the longer children are out of school following a disaster like this, the less likely it is that they’ll ever return.”

With my mumpals, I often joke about what would happen if our kids didn’t have a place in school – how we would go bonkers if we had to homeschool. But I cannot imagine what it would be like to know my children had no place in the education system whatsoever in the forthcoming weeks, months and even years. To me it would feel like they had lost their future.

Rafay continues: “We know that the longer children are out of school following a disaster like this, the less likely it is that they’ll ever return. That’s why it’s so important that education is properly funded in this response, to get children back to the classroom as soon as it’s safe to do so and to safeguard their futures.”

Education must be prioritised to safeguard children’s futures

On a crisis of this scale, people often think about the need for immediate aid – things like shelter, hygiene and kitchen kits as well as cash for basic necessities such as food and clean drinking water – all of which are undoubtedly essential, and we’re working hard on the ground with other key charities to provide. But we must, must, must, simultaneously prioritise education in these relief efforts.

School is the best place for children to be. We say this to each other at the school gates as we dash off to work, having a quick lol about the absence of our sanity.

But in places like South East Asia, school acts both as a provider of education and as a protection mechanism, against things like child labour, early marriage and child trafficking. These can all occur in times of emergencies, such as floods, when poor communities are pushed to the brink.

Support our work in South Asia

We are helping the education system recover in all three flood affected countries. Our aid workers are running special playgroups for children to help them recover, and taking over temporary learning spaces so classes can resume immediately.

We are also distributing back-to-school kits with basic learning materials and are providing psychosocial support to students affected by the floods.

So, spare a thought when you’re packing that school bag – cutting the crusts of those sandwiches and herding your children out of the front door – how best to put your gin fund to use, now that the summer holidays are over.

Here’s a little hint…

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