Teacher Sita Tamang and others at Bhairum School in the South Asian country of Nepal have been working with the Nepal Red Cross Society—along with partners the Nepal Society for Earthquake Technology and the American Red Cross—on a program to teach disaster preparedness in schools.
More than 200 million people are affected by disasters each year, but small investments can make a significant difference in saving lives, safeguarding homes and protecting personal assets. Nepal, like other mountainous countries, is prone to storms, floods, landslides, fire and water-borne diseases, which threaten the lives and safety of people living in the area.
In addition, Nuwakot and Rasuwa, another district in Nepal, have a significant risk of earthquakes, and experience minor quakes quite frequently. It is just one of the world’s 33 most disaster-prone countries where the American Red Cross worked in 2011, partnering with Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies to build safer communities through disaster preparedness training and activities.
The Disaster Preparedness for School Safety (DPSS) program works to minimize those threats by teaching teachers and students how to identify risks and hazards in their schools and communities and what they can do before, during and after disasters.
In addition to preparedness training, volunteers are trained to provide light search and rescue and first aid. The program is unique because it equips the students and teachers to serve as ambassadors and mobilizers, spreading what they’ve learned to their friends, neighbors and families.
Last September, students put their training into action when a 6.9 earthquake struck eastern Nepal. Phaising Tamang, an eighth grader at Bhairum School and a member of the Junior Red Cross Circle, recalls doing "duck, cover and hold on" during the disaster.
"As soon as my mother felt a quake amongst six other neighbors inside the house, all of them ran away,” he said. “But I positioned as a duck, covered my head and tried hard to remain stable at the entrance. Nothing happened."
Because of the DPSS program, Phaising knew the safest action was not to run away. While the earthquake struck at dusk, meaning students were not in class, it demonstrated how important a culture of school safety is for the community.
Following a teachers’ training in Rasuwa, participants of 19 area schools will carry out vulnerability and capacity assessment at schools and mobilize students and teachers to create disaster response plans for both their school and their homes. “This project brings together changes in schools and communities as the children are the best ambassadors,” said Tirtha Joshi, coordinator for the program.
In the first phase of the program, nearly 8,400 people have been reached. And by 2014, some 40,000 people and 220 schools will have benefited from disaster preparedness initiatives.
Sita is confident that the program will continue to develop, bringing more first aiders, and light search and rescue workers to her school in a matter of months. And when the community develops its own preparedness plan, Sita said, “the community gets resilient.”