Students, teachers at Advocates for Human Rights’ school in Nepal survive earthquake

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Advocates for Human Rights

Students and teachers at a Nepal school founded by The Advocates for Human Rights, a downtown Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, have survived the devastating Nepal earthquake that has claimed the lives of at least 5,500 people.

However, 95 percent of the students and teachers have lost their homes in the massive earthquake that struck April 25. There is no word yet either on the fate of the school building in the Sankhu-Palubar area in the Kathmandu Valley, said Jennifer Prestholdt, a southwest Minneapolis resident and deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

“What a relief to learn that everyone is safe,” said Prestholdt, coordinator of the Sankhu-Palubari Community School project. “Thank goodness that it was a Saturday when the earthquake happened, because that is the only day of the week children do not attend school. UNICEF has said that nearly one million children in Nepal were severely affected by the earthquake. Had school been in session, the loss of life throughout the Kathmandu Valley could have been much worse.”

The nonprofit founded the school in 1999 after volunteers became engaged in child labor issues in the area. It’s a unique project for the organization that focuses on advocating for international human rights standards with its network of volunteers and supporters. It’s funded entirely by donations to The Advocates.

“It’s not typically the way we work, but we’ve seen such a tremendous change in the community,” Prestholdt said.

The school provides a free education to low-income children who would otherwise be working as laborers on farms or in brick yards. It has students in grades pre-K through 10th.

Prestholdt said families were initially skeptical of letting daughters attend school when it first opened, but attitudes have changed considerably. Now many of the girls go on to higher education.

The school’s enrollment averages around 340 to 350 students each year, she said. It costs the nonprofit about $250 per student each year — funding that covers the cost of materials, uniforms and a lunch.

“The students are healthier, which is particularly evident when you see the height difference between the children and their parents and siblings who haven’t attended the school,” she said.

The school was honored with Nepal’s prestigious National Education Service Felicitation Award in 2014. Students have gone on to become doctors, teachers, social workers and agronomists.

The organization is focusing its efforts on directing international aid to students and their families. There’s been a massive influx of supplies to help the earthquake victims, but it’s been challenging to reach villages in need. People have been taking shelter in fields away from buildings.

“Right now, the most immediate needs—water, food, medical supplies—are most important,” Prestholdt said. “But in the long-term, Nepal will need sustainable rebuilding and development programs. Education is critical to reducing poverty and inequality.  In the aftermath of this devastating earthquake, we need to make sure that education is not interrupted for the children at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School, and The Advocates for Human Rights is committed to ensuring that.”  


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