Photos and text: Barun Khanal. As the beautiful country Nepal has been hit by two big earthquakes, thousands of people died and nearly 800,000 resident houses, schools, and administrative buildings collapsed or have been damaged badly and not possible to use anymore. As the country is struggling to get itself back on its foot, on Aitabaar Jestha 17th 2072, or Sunday May 31st 2015, schools had been quite busy for this day preparing to start their operation after almost a month of shutdown cease activity. Many districts which have not been severe earthquake-affected has been operating their schools now and then but after the second big quake they call up until further notice.
Recently Nepal government issued a notice suggesting schools to start studies in all part of the country, as much as it is possible in practice. Nevertheless, students in the affected regions went back to school today for the first time since the first big earthquake on April 25. The streets in Kathmandu valley seems quite busy that morning, as the town prepared for this step towards getting back the ordinary life.
Jenim Shrestha and Jenith Shrestha were about to head to their school with their father Rajendra Kumar Shrestha when I met them in a small alley near Ason, Kathmandu. Jenim and Jenith study in the New Milleniun School, located in Kupondole area of Kathmandu.
Rajendra was not sure about the condition of the school, but he knows that there is a playground that belong to school so there is an empty space near the school if school need to build temporary classes outside. Shrestha told there is also a main building of school but assumes there are some cracks. “I am going to see what’s happening there when I drop them to school. “, Shrestha denoted.
Raising his voice to make himself clear from his bikes noise, he said, “Other times school used to operate from 8 to 15, but today it’s only from 9:30 to 14”. Then he instructed boys to get in the bike, and they left towards the school.
Mohan Shrestha and his wife Yunis were heading towards the town with their children Sabina, Kabita, and Raju. These parents are not aware of how children’s school situation is after the earthquake. Mohan said he hear from someone that school is broken from inside. Yunis, a mother of these children, added a comment “People say that the ones who don’t have any place to go are now living inside that school. I have only heard but have not been there so don’t know”. I ask if they go to see the school now, Yunis replied that they are not going all the way to school; they have to go to work. Mohan believes that there is a playground in school where they will hold classes. Lynagmo (name changed) studies in class 9 of the Paropakar high secondary school. She was with her mother heading towards the school when I tried to stop and talk with them for a while. Her mother was also not sure how is the condition of a school, but said that someone from school asked parents to come to meetings in school, on the first day. However, Lynagmo remarked that she has been to school and there is some damage but not so big. They were in a hurry and didn’t want to be in a photo either.
I met Achyut Gautam, in Durbar Square with his parents. Attired in his college uniform, he felt confident in sharing his thoughts and experience with me. “There was no class today”, he positioned himself towards his parents while they grin at his answer. Gautam is studying in Friends College and is relieved that there is no damage in his college and all students are fine. After his first day at college, he had come to pray in temples with his parents. When I asked about this situation in his school, he explained in a soft tone about the day in college, “There are some small cracks near courtyard that’s all. The first day was a just short day, no study. Maybe there will be normal classes from tomorrow. “ I met Samikshya Gautam playing in front of a shop near Kalimati. Her parents Hari Baniya and Ganga Gautam (mother) were sitting inside the shop and chatting with Suraj Timalsina about the earthquake last night. When I asked whether Samikshya is going to school today or not, Ganga replied, “We don’t know if her school has started or not. Our house has collapsed, so we are looking for renting a house”.
Hari mentioned they have already paid for the school fees, bought uniform books for their daughter few days before the earthquake came.
Purushottam and Basudev Bhatta, both parents and coworkers in Basanta Durbar square seems to be both happy and unsure about sending their kids to school. Being doubtful about the things news media writes, Purushottam comments “I don’t know how much is truth on what media tells but I read in a newspaper last Friday that some schools have not allowed parents to go visit the school”. Basdev adds, “And some schools have been hiding the earthquake damage in an attempt to open the school”. While there have been reports on some schools trying to instantaneously make quick repair filling the visible cracks, some schools have been truly sincere about their situation and transparent about that to a public.
After a long pause Basudev remarks that adults are scared situation themselves and that will affect the kids. In his boosting expression, he advances, “Think about the children. They are our future generation, schools should not play with their future”. Looking towards the sound where Shankha is playing, he adds, “We as an adult can run outside when necessary, children can’t react right away, they get confused and more scared”. Puroshottam and Basudev looked abruptly at each other both strongly reflects that schools should put an effort to convince parents; they should invite parents to visit the school and talk with them about the situation and what can be done.
It is necessary that instead of trying to hide destroyed structure, it’s better trying to settle the deep problem lying underneath those school infrastructure. On the other hand, many of the students, whose classrooms and schools have been destroyed during the earthquake, have been allotted classes in short-term learning centers in temporary shelters, either themselves or supported by different NGO and partner organizations. The learning center at Resettlement community at Bode, Bhakatapur is one of them.
It has also been a little prestige game among the competing schools to be able to open the schools in one way or another instead of giving out “out of order” notice. Most of the parents that I had a chance to have conversation feel insecure of sending their kids to school. On the other hand, they also feel good that children can finally go to school because children will be occupied and parents will have time to do other things. A mother taking her children to school quickly commented while she walks forward, “Its good effort to start school finally, children have been bored at home, and it had been difficult for us to last couple of weeks to handle their activities and keep them occupied. Now it is better”. She walked away laughing loudly, quickly grabbing her two children towards the school. Some schools have their activities starting late and ending early. While the aftershock is still shivering people now and then, parents do feel good about opening the schools while some don’t have enough confidence on schools infrastructure and staffs and teachers’ capability to handle the earthquake situation. For now, the schools are running, offices are in normal times, traffic is getting crazy, farmers are busy reaping and putting new plants in their field, and people try to get to their normal cycle in the way it is possible for them. It seems like the earth has been calm for few days.