When I joined Plan International’s Safe Schools Programme in March 2012, the projects had just received approval for implementation in Cambodia, Indonesia and China. Though it involves a large variety of activities, simply put, the goal of the Safe Schools projects is to ensure that children in the most at-risk communities have access to safer education by minimizing the impact that a disaster can have on a child’s education and school environment.
Before the project began, I went to Cambodia and met with children living in Kampong Cham province. As I was told, the children struggled to get a quality education as their school was based in a flood-prone area and often had to close during the rainy season.
Families are faced with tough choices, having to decide between keeping their children at home or allowing them to travel by boat to school, even though they cannot swim. In speaking to the families, I began to understand how flooding has also forced families to relocate during the flood seasons, so that they can continue to earn a living.
In particular, one child told me: “Our school is far from the village and the floods cause many difficulties for the communits. The roads are cut off and the bridges collapse. Most children cannot get to school”.
What inspired me from that visit was that despite all of their challenges, children showed tremendous interest in our disaster-based activities. They wanted a safe place where they could continue to study even if disasters happened and they would do whatever was needed to make that happen.
Since that visit, Plan has been working hard to expand the Safe Schools Program in Asia. In just two years we have grown our Safe Schools Program to 13 countries, reaching more than 2,000 schools.
During a recent field visit to Myanmar and Indonesia, I saw how our Safe Schools projects has made a positive impact in schools and the community. I notice that children are talking more to their parents and are not shy to share their concerns to their teachers and headmasters. There is nothing that makes me prouder than seeing schoolchildren run through a disaster simulation exercise – acting out every single step that is needed once a disaster occurs.
Whether its knowing where to evacuate during an earthquake or knowing how to offer first-aid to a classmate, it is a privilege to see these children taking matters into their own hands. They are no longer passive and wait for instructions; they are active in their communities and are determined to continue their education despite any challenges.
I know that children in Asia will continue to face disasters and feel the impact of climate change – that is inevitable. But I am proud to be a member of an organization that is dedicated to providing children with as much knowledge, training and tools as possible, so that children know how they can minimize the impact of disaster and climate change and continue their education without worry or interruption.
Peuvchenda Bun is Safe Schools Programme Coordinator for Plan Asia.