by Emily Lawrence, M&E Specialist

The response to the recent earthquakes in Nepal offers a tremendous opportunity to use the lessons learned from past emergencies, and the momentum of future reform, to deliver aid that supports rebuilding in a manner that is sustainable, reliable, and resilient. This article will follow the earthquake response of a partnership between two small non-governmental organizations (NGO), emBOLDen Alliances and Classrooms in the Clouds (CitC) and their efforts to focus on two significant topics of humanitarian reform, namely utilizing local partnerships in disaster response and promoting education throughout the relief process.



On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the small landlocked country of Nepal, followed by thousands of aftershocks, and an additional 7.3 magnitude earthquake on May 12. The earthquakes resulted in extensive destruction to lives and property. Thirty out of Nepal’s 75 districts were affected, including the North Eastern Mountain district of Solukhumbu.1 In Solukhumbu, more than 12,000 people were displaced and approximately 62,552 households were damaged. 2 Four of the 34 health posts in the district were affected, and 47 of the 89 community schools were destroyed. 2

The Nepal earthquakes hit in the midst of global engagement regarding humanitarian reform. In 2014, the Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability were released and the first ever World Humanitarian Summit is slated to take place in 2016, following the past 25 years of building humanitarian standards, guidelines, and systems. In the past decade, the population of people affected by crisis has almost doubled, and the field of humanitarian assistance has been faced with numerous new challenges and contexts. 3 This summit aims to explore and define how to better meet the needs of this growing population, in a manner that is appropriate, relevant, and effectively supports countries and communities in preparing for future distress. 3 The response to the Nepal earthquakes offers a tremendous opportunity, for local and international organizations alike, to use the lessons learned from past emergencies, and the momentum of future reform, to deliver assistance that supports rebuilding with sustainability, reliability, and resiliency.

This article will follow the earthquake response of a partnership between two small non-governmental organizations (NGO), emBOLDen Alliances and Classrooms in the Clouds (CitC). Their program is aimed at rebuilding quality school structures and providing a First Aid Train-the-Trainer program for teachers, in accordance with the needs of affected communities in Solukhumbu, Nepal. The program focuses on two significant topics of humanitarian reform: utilizing local partnerships to support local ability in disaster response and promoting education throughout the relief process.

The third standard of the Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability stipulates that humanitarian response should strengthen local capacities, so that communities affected by crisis are more prepared, more resilient and less at risk, as a result of humanitarian action.4 Lessons learned from past interventions demonstrate that investing in local partnerships, building resilience, reducing disaster risk, and supporting local ability saves lives and quickens recovery.5, 6 These partnerships are especially important in bridging the gap between direct relief and long-term recovery.7 Additionally, the need to support education, during and after disaster, is of utmost importance. 6,8 According to a UNICEF report, in the wake of a natural disaster, schools are essential to ensuring that education is not disrupted.7 Schools also provide protection from exploitation and abuse, and provide education on how to keep safe and healthy during a disaster.7 In crises in which they have worked, emBOLDen Alliances has noted that communities mark the day of schools reopening with joy and celebration and as a symbol of progress in recovery.

In the long term, the positive association between education, health, and poverty are well established. Each extra year of schooling raises an individuals’ salary by up to 10 percent, and a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to live past the age of five.9 Rebuilding damaged schools is a logical first step towards restoring Solukhumbu’s education system, however it is only the first step.

Education in Nepal and Classrooms in the Clouds

CitC is a grassroots NGO working to bring quality education to Solukhumbu. Since 2005, CitC has worked in remote villages in the lower Solukhumbu district, building additional classrooms on government schools and sponsoring teachers. CitC accomplishes its mission through the building of quality classrooms, supporting teacher training, and sponsoring employment of female teachers. The program was born out of the need for quality education in rural, remote areas.

Since 1990, the primary school enrollment rate in Nepal had dramatically increased, however, attainment of higher education is difficult in Nepal. 10 This is due to the high fail rate of the School Leave Certificate (SLC). The SLC is a national examination taken at the end of secondary school, and a passing grade is needed to continue on to Higher Secondary School. In 2011, 19 percent of 15-24 year olds have received the SLC or the equivalent nationally; similarly, this figure was 13 percent in the Solukhumbu Region.11 Private schools have consistently out-performed public schools on the SLCs. In 2013, 83 percent of private school students passed the SLC compared to only 27 percent of public school students.10 Additionally, in 2013, an independent evaluation of Nepalese education system found that although Nepal has greatly increased enrollment in primary education, the quality of public school education is greatly lacking, especially for schools located in the poorest and most marginalized communities. 12 These schools are poorly staffed and have poor access to resources or support.12

Thus, the need for improvement in access to education as well as quality education is more than apparent. CitC’s model offers both of these as well as utilizing female teachers as role models for communities. As the Founder of CitC Dawa Geljen Sherpa discusses, the knock-on effects of having children stay in their home villages includes benefits in preserving cultural heritage, local language, generational customs, familial support, parental bonding, and ultimately, livelihoods outside of urban areas.

A Local Response to Disaster Relief


Education and Disaster Relief

In the wake of the earthquakes, the importance of CitC’s work has compounded. All the existing schools supported by CitC (22 classrooms in 4 locations) have been damaged. The damage ranges from cracked walls and floors to total destruction of schools. CitC is currently assessing the damage before embarking on a rebuilding program. Additionally, the seven teachers at various locations sponsored by CitC are faced with teaching in temporary learning centers to children who have been traumatized by the earthquakes and the ensuing aftershocks. Although the importance of education during humanitarian crises has received increased attention, funding for education programs during a disaster remain under-funded.6 CitC’s work is meeting a critical need in the recovery of Nepal. Their focus on building quality education ensures that the communities will not only have a building in which children can be educated, but a quality education that will encourage them to reach their full potential.

Building Resilience to Future Shocks and Stresses

In addition to CitC’s efforts to support education, they have also identified the need for First Aid Training in remote communities. Before the earthquakes, CitC’s partner communities voiced concerns about accessing basic healthcare needs and identified the need for First Aid Training to teachers and community members in remote villages. This need was dramatically intensified after the April and May earthquakes, leaving CitC’s communities further cut off from medical assistance.

Through partnering with emBOLDen Alliances, both organizations aim for the training to provide remote village areas with the ability to better stabilize, treat, and transport injured and ill community members, increase community members access to basic First Aid supplies, and better prepare community members in the case of another emergency or significant disaster. According to CitC, schools are seen as a community focal point; therefore, by building capacity within schools, entire communities can be uplifted, empowered and prepared. As a Train-the-Trainer program, this education will be able to be shared forward as well as adapted and evaluated at regular intervals.


A Local Voice in Humanitarian Reform

This response provides an example of two organizations working in partnership, to shift humanitarian relief towards a locally delivered response and through support of local networks. emBOLDen and CitC benefit from being smaller organizations, as they are not held back by the constraints that often burden larger organizations. By working in partnership with local NGOs and the communities they serve, small organizations like emBOLDen Alliances, are positioned to lead a project from within the community itself. That means, not directing or dictating project goals, rather working with community members, listening mindfully to their needs and priorities, and helping to build communities’ visions for betterment together.

At times, the World Humanitarian Summit and the Core Humanitarian Standards can seem lofty and unattainable. However, when well implemented, these standards and goals present an opportunity to shift the status quo on how disaster relief is viewed and delivered. If more organizations, both big and small, decide to act on the recommendations of promoting local networks and local community-driven response, we can shift long-term disaster relief towards programs that are more durable, more accountable, and more effective.

Copyright emBOLDen Alliances 2015.


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