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Floating backpack helps children get back to school

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1Nghia at home with his floating backpack and new textbooks (Photo: Save the Children)February 2012 - When his school became inundated due to the severe flooding in Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta in October and November last year, seven-year old Nghia and his friends at the Thuong Thoi Hau A primary school in Dong Thap province could not go to school anymore.

Nghia and his parents Nguyen Van Xuan, 31, and Tran Thi Ngoc, 29, were among the 391 families from Binh Hoa Trung village in the Hong Ngu district of Dong Thap province that were affected by the flooding, which caused widespread devastation.

Houses, schools, rice fields, fruit orchards and fish ponds were entirely submerged, with water levels stagnating for more than two months. Many roads and bridges were also under water.

When the schools reopened, Nghia and his friends had to travel to school by boat. This made them feel unsafe. “I often feel scared when travelling by boat. My old bag had fallen into the water,” Nghia explains.

To protect the children and their school supplies, Save the Children with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and in close cooperation with the Dong Thap Department of Education and Training, provided Nghia and his fellow students with a flood-proof floating backpack.

The floating backpack is specifically designed to act as both a life jacket and a school backpack. It is based on an original design by an 11-year-old boy from northern Viet Nam and according to children’s preferences. The backpack has reflective material for easy recognition, is robust and fulfils the standards of the Safety and Quality Department of Viet Nam.

The backpacks are essential in each school. Nguyen Hong Son, head of Thuong Thoi Hau A primary school says: “All students in our school have floating backpacks now. For a place with so many rivers and channels, they are really helpful in reducing the risks when travelling across rivers, particularly in the annual flood season.”

By using the backpacks, children are protected from drowning and their school supplies do not get damaged if they fall into the water. Since Nghia received the backpack, he feels much more secure and is now enthusiastic about attending school. “I’m so happy,” he says. “My teacher just gave me this new bag. If I fall into the water now, the bag will help me float just like a life vest.”  

“Helping to keep schools and kindergartens functioning during times of flooding is an important part of our commitment to support the Government’s early recovery response,” says Ian Wilderspin, UNDP Viet Nam specialist for disaster risk management.

“Providing floating backpacks and life jackets to schoolchildren and their teachers gives greater assurance of safety and continuity in schooling during times of flooding,” Ian explains.

The efforts are part of a larger emergency response operation carried out by Save the Children with support from UNDP. Over 10,000 families and children in Dong Thap and An Giang provinces have also received floating backpacks, water containers and life jackets. These crucial needs were identified through a joint UN-NGO needs assessment mission carried out in October 2011.

Overall, more than 645,000 people were affected by the Mekong flooding, and 85 percent of all casualties were children. About 156,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. The economic damage is estimated to be US$193 million.

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