For schoolboy Sabin Dulal knowing what to do in the event of an earthquake is more than practical, it is life-saving.
“If there is a disaster, I can immediately help myself and those around me," the 15-year-old said, applying a tourniquet to a fellow student’s leg. He was attending an earthquake simulation exercise outside Panchakanya Secondary School in Nepal’s Bhaktapur District, 30km outside Kathmandu.
“Now I know I can make a difference,” he said.
Sabin is one of a small, but growing number of students aged 11-16 being trained by the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) in first aid, triage, light search and rescue, and basic disaster management planning.
Undertaken in consultation with the National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET), the initial one-year pilot programme launched in 2010 has already made a difference.
“Students feel empowered by this,” Santa Ram Dulal, the school’s headmaster and a Red Cross volunteer, told IRIN. “They now have real life-saving skills - skills they can then take back to their homes and communities.”
To date more than 20,000 students, teachers and residents have benefited from the effort, which has targeted 50 schools in the districts of Bhaktapur and Nuwakot.
Over the next three years, more than 200 other schools in the same districts, as well as in the northern district of Rasuwa along the border with Tibet, will be added, aimed at reaching roughly 40,000 schoolchildren and teachers, and some 250,000 residents.
“This effort has a dual role,” Umesh Prasad Dhakal, executive director of the NRCS, said. “In addition to raising their [schoolchildren’s] awareness of disaster preparedness and teaching them to assess their own vulnerability at home, it also teaches them to be first responders, not to mention how to reduce risks at home.”
Armed with knowledge about how to evacuate their schools and make them safer, the students return to their homes where they teach their parents small-scale earthquake mitigation techniques, such as ensuring cupboards are firmly fixed to walls and that heavy objects are not sitting on shelves.
In the context of Nepal, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, putting places of learning and students at the forefront of disaster preparedness makes sense: often it is students who are among those first on the scene when disasters strike.
According to the American Red Cross, which is supporting the initiative, schools serve as community centres, bringing people together for town meetings, cultural events and - often in times of emergency - shelter and aid.
“A multi-hazard school-based disaster preparedness programme is an effective approach to raising community awareness about potential exposure to local hazards,” Rebecca Scheurer, regional representative of the American Red Cross, told IRIN, noting that communities galvanize around school activities.
Although earthquake-focused, the skills taught are versatile and can be employed in other disasters (e.g. floods, fires and landslides), she said.
“We want to elevate awareness of disasters in schools and impart critical skills so that teachers and students are not only able to effectively respond to emergency needs in the event of a disaster, but so that they can anticipate and minimize exposure to local hazards. By extension, family members learn how to make their community safer,” Scheurer said.
According to NSET, Nepal has had nine major earthquakes roughly every 75 years since 1255 AD. The last one, in 1934, flattened Kathmandu, killing thousands.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions