Schools reopen in quake-ravaged areas

Nine-year-old Wajid Ishaq was reading his science book in a two-room school when the earth started shaking. "Run outside, it's a quake!" his teacher cried. Just over two months later, Ishaq is back in school, though the scene is now a tent that is chilly with the Himalayan winter still just settling in. The Oct. 8 quake struck the Himalayan region, flattening entire communities and killing at least 87,000 people, including thousands of school children. Ishaq, the other 29 students and their teachers were lucky. The quake destroyed their school in the village of Ziarat Gali, home to about 700 families on a hill overlooking the Neelum Valley, but they all escaped unharmed.

In a sign that the area is starting to get back on its feet, Manzoor Naqashbandi, a government director of schools in Muzaffarabad district, said 95 percent of the schools in the area have reopened, many of them in tents. "We give credit to aid agencies, Islamic charities and individuals for helping to revive the shattered education system," he said.

Munshi Inayat, a village elder and former policeman, helped set up Ishaq's school after he saw village children roaming around aimlessly in the village after the quake. A total of 148 children, including 80 girls, study in the tent school donated by Jamat-ut-Dawa, an Islamic charity that emerged after authorities banned the militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

"They were the first to respond to our request for a tent and books for the school," Inayat said. But he said the school needs a permanent shelter. When the snows start falling in about a week, the children will not be able to face the harsh weather in the tent. "We only need 60,000 rupees (US$1,000) to build a one-room school using corrugated steel sheets ," he said. Lack of adequate funding also has left Inayat unable to pay salaries to the four teachers for two months. One teacher said she was more worried about ensuring the children get a proper education.

"Money is not a priority for me. I wanted to see these children continue their studies," said Nazia Ijaz, 23, who leaves her 2-year-old son at home to walk 40 minutes to the tent school.

The students include 10 children whose parents died in the quake. Among them was Nazish Zafar, 7, from another nearby village. Her father survived, but her mother, grandparents and other relatives were killed when their homes collapsed, reports the AP. I.L.

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