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Schools pledge quake cash aid

British pupils offer pocket money and prayers to help Pakistan's devastated earthquake region, reports Helen Ward

Schools throughout Britain pledged money and offered prayers this week for the victims of the south Asian earthquake.

As Pakistan mourned the loss of a generation of children in the devastated Kashmir region, British schools held special assemblies and started collecting cash.

United Nations officials estimated that the number of deaths among young people would rise to 15,000. The town of Balakot, population 30,000, was nearest to the epicentre of the quake, which struck just as children began lessons on a normal school day.

Although five survivors were rescued, estimates of the number of children killed in the town vary from 200 to 400. Behind the wreckage of the school lie the bodies of pupils, wrapped in plastic shrouds.

Around 90,000 people of Kashmiri origin live in Birmingham, and the city's Park View school was twinned with the 1,000-pupil Manakpayan school in the mountainside town of Muzaffarabad, which has been destroyed. On Tuesday, a mass open-air prayer session was held at Park View in memory of those who died.

Manzoor Hussain, head of collective worship and maths, whose family is from the region, said: "It was a general prayer for everyone. Children could hold their hands up, and some said their own prayer. But we all stood together to show unity."

In Bradford, where around 70,000 people are of Kashmiri origin, the council may send teachers who speak the relevant languages to Pakistan, if and when they are required.

This week, two Bradford headteachers flew to Pakistan on a pre-arranged trip to meet potential partner schools in Kashmir.

Ian Hodgson, head of Byron primary, and Angus King, head of Thornbury primary, left on Monday after checking the area they are visiting, in Mirpur, had not been seriously affected by the earthquake.

Cathy Hayton, deputy head of Byron primary, said: "We want to start a project because our families come from there, but staff who are not Asian have little idea what it is like."

The school is preparing a non-uniform day, bun sale and sponsored silence to raise money, organised by a group of Year 6 children, including one girl whose cousins died in the disaster.

Thornbury primary has started a collection for children and families and talked about the quake at a whole-school assembly.

Kay Lindley, headteacher of Victoria primary school in Keighley, West Yorkshire, was in Kashmir three weeks ago, accompanied by two other staff members, to learn more about the area the school's pupils and their parents come from.

She said: "As far as we know, the eight schools we visited are safe. It is frustrating when you are 4,000 miles away from people who so recently you were having a meal and a chat with."

The school is holding a fund-raising day next Friday. "There is a tremendous feeling of empathy, and frustration that we can't do more," said Ms Lindley.

* helen.ward@tes.co.uk

Save the Children has published primary lesson plans about the earthquake.

See www.savethechildren.org.uk

HOW YOU CAN HELP VICTIMS

Donations can be made via the Disasters Emergency Committee's website at www.dec.org.uk or phoning 0870 6060 900.

It is co-ordinating fund-raising on behalf of Action Aid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.

Those worried about their relatives can call the Foreign Office information line on 0207 008 1500.

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