In the old part of the Dhaka city, buildings stand only a foot away from each other. Engulfing the narrow streets, these houses have weakened with age and without any renovation efforts. Lalbag, Sutrapur and Kotwali areas put together, some 115 schools run in such risky condition. Earthquake poses a serious threat to this most densely populated area of the city – puran Dhaka.
Zinnat-Us-Saleha, 65, works as headmaster to one of the schools. Her fears are not baseless, 'I cannot hold myself when I realise that just one earthquake may change normal life of my school, my children. I stay alert. I listen to the news in media and attend discussions - seminars about earthquake. I learnt about the value of preparedness. And I thought every student of my school should learn too.'
Bongshal Girl’s High School, where Ms. Saleha works, operates in a four-storey building that accommodates 650 students and 17 faculties. 'There is a bicycle shop and a government primary school running inside my school premises. I think all of these expose the area to more vulnerability,' she continues.
ActionAid Bangladesh (AAB) has partnered with Population Service and Training Centre, a local NGO, to rollout an awareness campaign and earthquake preparedness workshop. Incepted under 6th DIPECHO action plan of ECHO with NARRI consortium, this project has so far brought together 24 schools in the locality to form a network that now engage students in evacuation drills, drop cover hold practices. As many as 18,196 students and their families have been given Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials to know about earthquakes and the life-saving dos and don’ts.
'I now know how to evacuate safely from the building if any earthquake or fire incident takes place. I know how to cover my head and duck in case of fire. I also know why to drop on the floor and roll if I catch fire,' Drishti, a student of Class Five at Birshrestho Matiur Rahman School, is confident.
The campaign is running in full momentum – with new schools joining the network every month. AAB plans to engage students of all 115 schools by January next year. The Primary Education Department has given a much-needed ‘go-ahead’. But, AAB is trying all the channels to get all the vital information across as quickly as possible. In April this year, students of the school network will engage people in the streets in a massive rally where they aims to help people become aware of earthquakes and to know about preparedness.
People may expect colour festoons and placards from the rally. But as of now, AAB expects to fire up children’s imagination in a drawing and essay competition on Disaster Risk Reduction on 31st instant! Director General of Primary Education will join the children there. What about you?