When a massive earthquake struck Pakistan-administered Kashmir on 8th October 2005, anxious parents stopped sending their children to school. WFP's Amjad Jamal says that a WFP cooking oil ration is now making all the difference to attendance.
Nimra Khizar was in class with her friends one morning last October when the earth started to growl and tremble beneath them.
Nimra, who was at the Government Girls Middle School (GMMS) in the small village of Ichryaan, North West Frontier Province, says that fear filled their hearts: “We were very confused; to us it seemed that the world had come to an end. All the girls started to cry and run out of the classroom.”
Their parents too were filled with a bone-chilling terror that
it seemed that the world had come to an end
didn’t stop with the rumbling of the quake and made them question whether they should send their children back to school when it reopened two months later.
After all, as the quake death toll ballooned and finally exceeded 73,000, if another disaster happened they and their families might not be so lucky.
Only 73 of its 102 female pupils turned up in the first weeks of the GMMS’s reopening.
Immense logistical challenges
WFP launched a massive school feeding programme in quake-affected areas following the disaster, targeting 260,000 children in over 2950 primary schools, to attract pupils back to school.
The logistical challenges were immense, as many communities were in the mountains and had been isolated by landslides blocking road access. Bad weather also hampered delivery.
Girls at the GMMS soon started to receive a four litre tin of oil for attending 20 days per month. Attendance immediately shot up from 73 to 94.
Nimra, one of the students to benefit, says: “We students and parents are very thankful to WFP for providing us with this incentive, making it another motivation to study.”
The programme has not only improved attendance, but has also reduced the number of drop outs.
WFP’s relief operation targets over 989,000 people and school feeding is just one of the initiatives used to help people return to normal following the quake.
“After we had our emergency operation, the focus is no longer on saving lives and reducing human suffering but a matter of ensuring that people get back on their feet,” says WFP Country Director for Pakistan, Michael Jones.
He says that food is used in a very constructive manner to support the training of women and livelihoods, or it is used as an incentive to rebuild infrastructure and create marketable skills.
For Nimra and her fellow pupils, WFP’s rations help forget about the fear and focus on their education and the future.