International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

Partners in action / Education


School Networks Manage Risks in Ancash, Peru

Approximately 77% of all tropical glaciers in the world are found in Peru, most of them in the mountains of the imposing Cordillera Blanca, located in the department of Ancash. This mountain range runs parallel to the Cordillera Negra, forming the Callejón de Huaylas Valley, where the Santa River flows. This is the largest river of the coastal area and the only one that has water all year, thanks to the melting glaciers. Glaciers are clearly related to the abundance of water in the region, which has favored agriculture and the concentration of numerous rural villages and large cities like Huaraz, Ranrahirca, and Yungay, but they are also related to the destruction caused by floods and landslides, tragic events that have taken place in the last few decades. The combination of extreme physical conditions, climate change (causing increasing occurrence of drought, frosts, and torrential rains), and high conditions of vulnerability in poor rural communities—already more vulnerable because of their extreme poverty—has made the region the scene of Peru’s most deadly disasters. To date, more than 60,000 people have died as the result of disasters that have occurred in the region.

In this context, Soluciones Prácticas—ITDG [Practical Solutions], with the financial support of the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FUNDESCO) from Spain, Save the Children from Sweden, and DIPECHO of the European Union, began a project in 2004 which coordinates its activities with a number of schools in Ancash. The work done is based upon the assumption that schools can and should play a pivotal role in building a culture of prevention in communities, since they represent the State institution with the greatest presence at the local level, and due to their inherent function: education.

Based on this assumption, our institution has developed an emergency preparedness training process intended for students and teachers, and accompanied by a process aimed at promoting the creation of networks.

A number of training workshops were held with teachers. They were primarily provided with information on how to use methodological and technical tools for including risk management topics in learning units. At the same time, School Civil Defense Committees were established. It is worth highlighting the fact that a “Teachers Network for Disaster Prevention” was also created. This is a group of teachers that has been working under an overall intervention plan to motivate students to get involved in the field of disaster risk management, by analyzing the existing conditions of vulnerability in their schools and identifying safe areas.

Student brigades were also created. These represent the basic support structure for the “Network of Students on Alert” through which a variety of activities have been carried out in schools, including risk management courses and workshops, drawing contests, comic strips, and drills. In order to work with the community at large, marches and street performances were also held to raise awareness. Theater performances have been based on the earthquake of 1970 that devastated the city of Yungay. All these activities are aimed at reinforcing knowledge on and raising awareness of disasters among the population, as well as about the current situation in terms of a weak culture of prevention, about what the population should do in case of an emergency, and about the impact of triggering events. At the same time, school meetings have been held to exchange experiences and get the word out about these activities through the media. The “Communicators in Action Network” have played a central role in the process of disseminating information. This network took the lead in creating and broadcasting radio programs aimed at raising awareness among the population and reaching out to more rural communities. This provided spaces for reflection and debate where the students themselves contributed to increasing the understanding of risk situations in the region. One of the young participants said: “…Jointly with the students of my school and other schools, we learned to recognize vulnerability and evacuation areas, and we developed our emergency plans and risk maps for the schools… the main thing I take from the experience is that I now recognize my capacities and I use them while working with the community…”1

Subsequently, the experience with teachers and students provided us with input for proposing an advocacy process aimed at changing national and regional educational policies to include a risk management focus. Along these lines, ITDG, jointly with the Ministry of Education and the National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI), has contributed to the creation of a curriculum proposal titled “Learning to Prevent” and to its implementation through institutional plans in rural schools in Peru. Currently, “Learning to Prevent” is the basis for including risk management content in the curriculum planning of every school in the country, in order to reduce the vulnerability of children. As a complement, a school evaluation and monitoring guide was developed in a participatory fashion. The guide includes a tool for measuring the progress made in incorporating risk management into educational policies.

These experiences have been strengthened by similar activities and initiatives developed by local actors. Many of those who participated formally in our activities (and are now former students who live far away from their schools) continue working on efforts to raise awareness through the media. They are collaborating with radio stations and local television programs through which they share interviews with children and “student mayors”2 about their experiences in risk reduction. These youth leaders have established the “Union of Youth on Alert”, involving students, academic centers, universities, and higher education institutions from all over the region. The “Union” carries out training activities for students in rural and urban schools and for members of social organizations such as the “Glass of Milk Committees.” They have contributed to holding meetings to exchange experiences between “school municipalities”3 and Civil Defense Committees and to publicizing these activities through the local media. These activities have given the group a great deal of strength and leadership, so much so that they are currently making their presence felt in the region through the incorporation of risk management projects with a focus on a number of rights, within the process of drawing up the Participatory Budget of the region.

In the words of one of these young participants, “…the great strength of the school is its students. As young people, we have to take advantage of our youth and make every effort to feel that we are important and that we have the same abilities as the adults. We have to work together closely to change things and have cleaner cities, safer cities, cities for life….” 4

Based on the experiences we have gained, we offer the following final reflections:

  • Schools are agents of change and, as such, can and should be incorporated into the process of risk reduction and the promotion of local development strategies.
  • It is necessary to incorporate the topic of risk management into the educational sector, which means creating various instructive and methodological ways to incorporate this issue into learning units.
  • It is necessary to position students as actors entitled to a number of rights, and capable of getting involved in community development processes, including their direct participation in prevention and awareness raising activities.
  • Drills require the participation of the entire population, those who are organized in groups and those who are not. Broad-based participation has been motivated by prevention activities developed by the Civil Defense Committees and the Community Defense Brigades.
  • Youth leaders must be identified and trained so that they can act within a culture of prevention, and raise awareness of the risks faced by their communities.
  • It is necessary to promote efforts between existing networks (students and teachers) in new inter-institutional spaces, through the implementation of peer training processes and active participation in new local risk management activities.
  • • It is possible to provide youth leaders with autonomy when carrying out or proposing new activities. This is based on the knowledge they have acquired and the support provided by specialists.
  • • The institutional endorsement and political will of the local authorities favor the development of social support programs and projects.
  • Youth are a very dynamic and proactive sector. Their involvement in development tasks helps mobilize large groups of people around security and development proposals.
  • The population assumes a greater social commitment when their empirical and ancestral knowledge is acknowledged and they are recognized as both actors with rights and agents of their own development.
  • It is possible to build a participatory culture of prevention by consensus.
  • Schools are good spaces for raising awareness because they have an impact on teachers, students, parents, and administrative staff. They also contribute to building the capacity needed to cope with conditions of vulnerability and development problems, and establishing strategies to reduce risks.
  • Educational policies can contribute to reducing vulnerability to the extent that they promote in students, teachers, and parents the attitudes and skills necessary for reducing risks and responding to emergencies together with various development actors.
  • It is necessary to create risk management networks at local and regional level so that they can contribute to improving national policies and ensuring that they are appropriately adapted to local realities.
  • Key actors have turned out to be students and teachers themselves. Through their active participation in workshops and interviews aimed at gathering information on their viewpoints, they have contributed to the development of strategic planning, training, and assessment tools, such as a guide for creating institutional educational plans, a guide for assessing vulnerabilities and capacities for risk reduction in educational institutions, a training manual for risk management in educational institutions, and a manual on risk management training methodologies. Teachers and students have not only participated in training processes but have also designed and validated planning and assessment tools, as well as educational materials to be used as means for strengthening risk management activities throughout the country.

For further information, please contact:
Miluska Ordoñez
Educator and Specialist in Environmental Management
Giovana Santillán
Sociologist and Coordinator of the project titled “Incorporating Risk Management into Educational Policies.”

1 Ediño Norabuena, former student who was a member of the “Network of Students on Alert.” Today he is a leader of the Ancash Union of Youth on Alert.
2 Translator’s note: Alcaldes escolares, or student mayors, are leaders in the “school municipalities” system of the Peruvian schools.
3 Translator’s note: Municipios escolares, or school municipalities, are student governments modeled on the Peruvian municipality system. Each “school municipality” has a “student mayor” a “student town council,” “classroom student councils,” and “work commissions.”
4 Idem.