Life Goes On - But Scars Caused by Earthquake Will Fade Slowly

Rizwana has resumed teaching the Government Girls' High School in Gari Habibullah, but she's still haunted by the memories of her 2-year-old son who died in the October 8 killer earthquake. Thousands of buildings were completely destroyed - including most of the government schools in NWFP and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"I used to keep my son at home with his grandmother. Alas, on that day I could have left him at home, and I don't know why I brought him to school. He was playing in a classroom on the second floor when all the school buildings shook and tumbled down within seconds," says Rizwana while trying to stop tears rolling down her cheeks.

IOM visited the site of this government school situated 25 kilometers from Balakot. It is slowly being reconstructed thanks to a donation of aluminum shelters for classes but they lack furniture, water facilities and latrines. The school resumed classes a month after the earthquake and the students are still in seven tents erected adjacent to the damaged school building.

"Students are still horrified by the memories of the earthquake and not interested in going back to their original school building," says Rizwana. "Initially, the students refused to attend classes in tents beside the rubble of the building because they couldn't forget the memories of their friends' deaths."

Before the earthquake, the school had 750 female students, but 100 girl students, two schoolteachers and a clerk died on October 8. Out of the 650 students who survived the earthquake, almost 300 of them have migrated along with their families to Mansehra, Rawalpindi and Karachi.

With each passing day the number of students is increasing and currently there are 350 students. "In the beginning, we didn't even force them to study textbooks. Instead, we tried to engage them by telling stories and diverting their attention from the appalling memories of the earthquake," says Rizwana.

However, life goes on in the quake-affected areas.

"I know I have lost my son, and it hurts a lot. But when I see others who lost their entire families, it makes me feel that my emptiness is not bigger than what others are going through," says Rizwana. "I'm trying to keep myself busy and continue teaching and I'm slowly feeling like I'm returning to my normal life. But, you know, I will never forget what this earthquake did to my family."