A virtual look at reality for kids in quake-ravaged Nepal

LONDON-- To appreciate the scale of the emergency still facing Nepal's children a year after an earthquake shook the country to its core, you have to see it and hear it -- you have to feel it.

So a children's charity is bringing you right into the heart of the disaster, from the comfort of your own home.

The people behind the "A World at School" campaign say the dire conditions in Nepal perfectly highlight the urgency of getting kids' education back on track in the wake of a disaster, and they want your digital signature to back their cause.

To drive the point home, the children's charity behind the campaign, Theirworld, teamed up with digital content experts and a British journalist to produce an eight-minute virtual reality experience that brings you into the lives of kids still grasping for normalcy in the shattered Himalayan nation.

With a VR headset or the click of a mouse on your desktop, you can look around inside the makeshift classrooms thousands of children are using, take a dangerous ride over a raging river with kids heading to school, and listen as they and their teachers tell their own stories.

The idea, explains Theirworld President Sarah Brown, is to open your eyes; "to have people understand and almost experience what the devastation is, and what that landscape is like."

Brown told CBS News that 35,000 classrooms were destroyed by the monster earthquake last year. Fifty-seven percent of the kids affected are now able to attend regular classes -- many in temporary buildings, or tents.

But for the rest of the children who still have no safe place to spend their days, the landscape is a dangerous one.

"Lots of girls have gone missing," says a Nepali girl, sitting in her temporary classroom in the "Safe Schools: Nepal" video. "The traffickers coerced them. They promise you jobs then sell you in Kathmandu or abroad. That's what I've heard."

The primary motivation behind Theirworld's innovative appeal is a firm belief that education must not be viewed as a secondary concern in the wake of a crisis.

"After a disaster, the cost of children not going to school is not solely that their education is interrupted, but also that they are in dire jeopardy," said Brown, adding that it's hard to over-estimate the sense of security and stability a family gets from the daily routine of getting the kids off to school.

Theirworld says the education of more than 80 million children worldwide was disrupted by crises in 2015, but less than two percent of the humanitarian aid spent last year went toward getting those kids back into safe schooling.

Historically, Brown says the emphasis has always been on getting food, medical care and shelter to victims after a disaster, and while those basic necessities remain, she laments the current thinking, "that anything else is an extra."

"Our argument is, because of the impact on children... education comes into the picture far too late," she told CBS News. "There is a far lower cost of putting it in right up front, and a greater impact on the lives of children."

Now the charity wants world leaders to put their money where their mouths were last year, when they agreed to a new platform or fund aimed specifically at channeling aid money into education in disaster-struck regions -- quickly and efficiently.

Having already agreed to the new fund in principle last year, Theirworld says the leaders will have the perfect opportunity at the end of May, as they convene for the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, to fund the initiative.

But leaders often take some convincing when it comes to committing their nations' cash to new charity initiatives. To that end, as Brown told CBS News, Theirworld doesn't want your money, they want your voice.

The group is behind an online petition calling on the leaders meeting in Istanbul to follow through with their commitment to help get kids back into safe schools by funding the project.

Theirworld's goal is to get the new aid-for-education platform in place and funded in time to reach at least 20 million kids forced out of education annually within five years, and to reach every child in that position by 2030.

"You can't fail to be moved by their resilience and determination to return to school and escape the layers of exploitation," Brown said in a statement coinciding with the release of the VR video on YouTube. "We must urge world leaders to deliver this promised humanitarian fund for education in emergencies which will be able to act fast in the future to meet this need."

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.