10/07/2016 01:59 EDT | Updated 10/07/2016 01:59 EDT

Back-To-School Isn't Something We Should Take For Granted

As Canadian children are now settled back into school, it's a good time to think about the 59 million primary-school-aged children around the world who are not in school -- children who are missing out on acquiring the basic building blocks they need to grow up and become strong, productive members of society, and to realize their full potential.


It's been over one year since two devastating earthquakes rocked Nepal in April and May 2015. The earthquakes and aftershocks claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people, and left nearly 1.1 million children without shelter and with little food or access to water, sanitation, education and health services. The earthquakes also destroyed more than 35,000 classrooms and jeopardized the futures of millions of children.

Thanks to the quick recovery and reconstruction efforts that followed -- funded in part by the overwhelming generosity of Canadians -- we were able to minimize any interruption to their education. In the hardest hit districts, makeshift classrooms were reopened just one month after the first earthquake. We were able to distribute emergency school kits and recreational kits to the most affected regions, and we supported a comprehensive building structural assessment of earthquake-affected schools in 11 districts.

It's progress, but there is still much work to be done. The impact of the earthquakes continues to be felt, especially among women and children. Many families and children continue to live in temporary accommodation, study in temporary classrooms, and families are struggling to make ends meet. Children remain exposed to increased risk of neglect, exploitation and violence.


They also face the fear of another natural disaster. That's why UNICEF is working with the affected communities to build back better -- to be more and better prepared to withstand future shocks, like an earthquake.

As Canadian children settle back into their school routines, it's hard not to think of young Nepalese like 17-year-old Geeta Thapa Magar.

Geeta has always dreamt of becoming a nurse, but for now she's unable to attend school. Her father left the family six years ago to work as a migrant worker, and less than one year after that, her mother also left home and would not call the family until four years later. Geeta's dream of becoming a nurse was put on hold as the responsibility of raising her five younger sisters and brother fell to her. As is so often the case in child-headed households, one child sacrifices their education and their dreams for the sake of the others' survival.

"I could not concentrate, and I flunked in five subjects," Geeta said of her final high school exams. "I didn't have time to study...And now I think I have even forgotten how to study."

Following the earthquakes, their home was so badly destroyed that the children took shelter under a homemade shelter of branches and leaves.

That's when a social worker identified them and notified UNICEF. We began to provide Geeta and her family with assistance, which helped the children to buy clothes, notebooks, and build a better shelter for themselves.

Their future remains uncertain, but Geeta's dreams of becoming a nurse are being revived; a local organization has expressed interest in training and employing Geeta on a part-time basis as a social mobilizer -- and also paying for her and her sisters' education.


As Canadian children settle in for another school year, let's remember what a significant opportunity that is in and of itself; it is something millions of children like Geeta around the world dream of, and one we should never take for granted.

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Nepal Earthquake, May 12, 2015