Jawad Khan, 15, spends most of his day at home in his village in the remote Battagram District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP), sometimes glancing at a magazine, or occasionally helping his mother shell peas or cut up potatoes.
His three younger siblings spend their day in school, and Jawad, a top student in his grade till a year ago, assists them with revision and homework. He has himself refused to go to school for over a year as the new private school set up in the area lacks a ramp to accommodate his wheelchair.
Jawad lost both legs after he was trapped for over two hours under the rubble of his public school during the devastating quake of 2005 which killed at least 73,000 people in parts of KP (then known as the North West Frontier Province) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
That school is still to be built, and Jawad says he “feels too embarrassed” to be carried into his classroom. To add to his problems, his wheelchair, donated soon after his legs were amputated when he was nine, has also virtually fallen apart. “My family cannot afford a new one,” he told IRIN.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the 2005 quake left 23,000 children disabled. UNICEF itself is building “child friendly” schools across the quake zone, complete with facilities for the disabled, and last year opened 16 more such schools.
"At the Child Friendly Schools UNICEF is building, we try to mainstream disabled children. Ramps are provided when needed, but issues like access to schools for children in remote areas are huge ones,” Jan Madad, an education specialist at UNICEF, told IRIN.
But the 165 schools UNICEF has agreed to build cannot cater for the needs of all the quake-affected children.
According to the Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority, set up by the government immediately after the quake, 5,751 educational institutions damaged or destroyed by the quake needed to be reconstructed. Some 73 percent had been completed by the start of September 2011. Work continues on others, but this still means many children have lacked access to school. Some still do, while for the disabled it is sometimes impossible to go back to inaccessible classrooms.
Apart from school design, the terrain where the quake struck affects this. Ali Khan, now 12, lives in the Allai administrative unit of Battagram District. With his legs damaged during the quake, he can only hobble about on crutches. But the 4km walk down a steep mountain path to the school nearest his village is too arduous for him to make.
Ali, who once dreamt of becoming an engineer, told IRIN: “This is fate. I have to live with it, and I just help my father the best I can around our farm. This is all that is left for me know.”
Scattered across the quake zone, other children are in a similar situation. The 5km distance along a rickety path in her village near Bagh in Kashmir cannot be negotiated in the wheelchair used by Asma Sharif, 13, and she receives only occasional lessons at home from her uncle. “He is too busy to help any more, but at least I have kept up some of the studies I had begun before the quake,” Asma told IRIN from Bagh.
Zahoor Uddin, a doctor at the Islamabad-based Hashoo Foundation NGO, which has worked with quake victims since 2005, told IRIN: “The problems are exacerbated because wheelchairs wear out quickly in that terrain, and the victims have no funds to replace them.” In some cases he said tutors had been arranged for children unable to reach school.
Carried to school
The problems for many children are acute. “I have a nine-year-old pupil, Gul Muhammad, who is carried to school on his father’s back. His friends help him to the toilet, and the hard chairs are uncomfortable for him as he has a back problem. I feel sorry to see him and wish our school had better facilities,” said Alimuddin Ali, 35, a school teacher in Battagram.
He told IRIN he knew of disabled children in other villages with no access to school - either because of distance or the way schools were designed.
“I have read of education by radio in some areas of the world for children in remote communities. Perhaps we can use FM radio to offer them broadcasted lessons,” he suggested.
“The thing is these children need to go to schools. Radio can’t help them. My son is growing, I am getting older, and I worry about how long I can carry him to school,” said Gul’s father, Hakim Uddin.