Unstoppable Schools

Over the past week or two the earthquake in Japan has been a major part of the news that I’ve been seeing. Besides being a terrible tragedy, it’s reminded me of some of the other natural disasters that have struck in the last few years. The first one that comes to my mind is Hurricane Katrina and the destruction in New Orleans. In many ways there are parallels between what happened there and has happened in Japan, though of course there are many obvious differences. However, from there my mind moved to another disaster that was much closer to Japan geographically and at the same time much further away. Recently I read a book called Stones into Schools, which included a chapter about the 2005 earthquake that devastated rural Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and in the retelling of the events surrounding that earthquake the author devoted his story to education.

Japanese schoolchildren make their way through the rubble to attend an open-air class in the devastated city of Minamisanriku in northeastern Japan. from Kyodo News, via Associated Press

And that’s what all these disasters have made me think about. In both of these earthquakes and the resulting devastation –in Pakistan in 2005 and Japan now—the reopening of schools and the resumption of class has been a surprising priority. It may seem counter-intuitive when people are still struggling to find food, shelter, clean water, and warmth. Of all the pressing needs in a disaster ridden country education—or even just getting classes started up again—seems like it would rank somewhat below shelter or food and water concerns. However, just looking at what has actually happened in these places seems to argue the contrary.

Earlier today I was reading about what’s happening in Japan. As I said, it’s the big news these past weeks. Well, one of the articles that I ran into this morning was about a school in Japan (http://huff.to/hT7xOg)—that is, about the kids and teachers of the school whose building was destroyed. Yet, rather than waiting to rebuild homes or even a new school, they have continued to hold class and even to celebrate the graduation of students from junior high school. There may not be much to celebrate in a time of death, but that makes these ceremonies all the more important—all the more meaningful.  Education provides people with a sense of hope and stability, as well as a real thing that they can look to to sustain a devastated community.

Like the teachers in Japan that chose to keep on teaching, those whose buildings had come down on them in Pakistan in 2005 set out to start class again as soon as they were able to account for their students. This is very much the way that schools are run today in much of rural Afghanistan. The people live in a country that has suffered through years of war, and now relies on foreign aid for much of its ability to provide things like water and food to its people (when it can). And yet there are still schools. There are teachers and there are students. And regardless of their quality of life they have recognized education as the thing that they ought to give their energies to.  However, unlike a country like Japan, Afghanistan is not a developed nation that has suffered a sudden disaster. It is a third world country that has been repeatedly beat down by the efforts of human beings. The fact that people there are still striving for an education is so impressive. But they still don’t have the things that are so easily accessible to a (first world) country like ours. It’s all the more reason to help them out, even if it’s just by sending one pencil to where it’s needed.

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