45179_towardssaferschoolconstruction_0 (2015) - Page 13

In 1999, a national NGO in Nepal dispatched an engineer to begin its first community-based safe school retrofit in a community on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Over time, the community began to trust the engineer as he went to the school site every day and got his hands dirty, drilling, laying and pouring with the rest of the labourers. In just four months the project seemed to be a success. On one of the last days, the engineer noticed a building that was small and offset on the school grounds. He learned it was the classroom for the first and second graders. Worried about this building being overlooked in the retrofit, he called the community to a town meeting next day hinting the topic would be important. School children, after learning of their own vulnerability, were the impetus for safe school construction and became leaders in creating a culture of safety. In the weeks after the devastating 2015 earthquake, the engineer anxiously called the community. With excitement, a local resident reported that both the main retrofitted school building and the reconstructed first and second grade classroom had survived unscathed. Many houses around the school collapsed or were heavily damaged, but not all. Some residents had applied the seismic-resistant techniques they saw during the safer school construction project to their own homes. With relief the engineer learned that those homes had withstood the earthquake. SECTION I: INTRODUCTION Students lead the way As the NGOs’ funding had been exhausted, he asked the community to give some of their own savings to help retrofit the small school building – in his mind the parents, teachers and friends of the first and second graders could not deny the children the safety given to the main schoolhouse. He asked the community to raise hands for a pledge. Slowly, skinny arms raised. Hands of fifth graders were in the air. They were the first to pledge their meagre savings — if they had any — to their younger classmates. Seeing their example, a cascade of funding followed. Parents pledged hours of labour and cash, while teachers and the principal gave one month’s salary. With no outside funding the first and second grade building was reconstructed. government representatives. Being in the immediate vicinity of the construction site day and night, they know when a contractor has not shown up for weeks or can voice justified suspicions the materials used are low quality. When they have direct responsibility for resources, communities can track how funds are spent and how materials are used. The cost per classroom often falls even as community satisfaction and the quality of construction improves, and middlemen are eliminated.1,9 When the local first-grade classroom needed strengthening, a fifth-grade student was the first to lend support. Photo: Risk RED. At the same time, students learn that their lives matter to the community. As s tudents become adults, the impacts magnify. Students of safer schools are well-prepared to make choices about safe housing, demand safe public facilities, and they understand that natural hazard events do not need to be tragedies. Engaging in the construction of safer school buildings can transform communities by building a culture of safety and resilience. In post-disaster contexts, community-based construction can also be a healing process. Youth, parents and communities can come together to rebuild, helping to relieve the trauma, stress and hopelessness felt after a disaster. Finally, a community-based approach can create a community learning opportunity for disaster risk reduction. School buildings serve as community hubs. When the focus of construction is on safe school construction and community learning, the process can build a broader awareness of hazards. It can promote collective action to identify and reduce exposure and vulnerabilities to those hazards. Communities can then apply these lessons in other construction projects, multiplying the impact of safe school construction. 4