By Diana Valcarcel
While a massive recovery effort continues in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan’s deadly onslaught, the reopening of schools is giving children a place to learn again – and to feel safe.
PALO, Philippines, 6 December 2013 – It is not just another day in Palo. Then again, since Typhoon Haiyan blasted through a swath of the Philippines, life has been incredibly difficult – especially for children.
Alexa and Carl are bouncing around the entrance of Palo Central School, excited about the new school tent and seeing their friends again.
“I am happy to be back to school because my classmates survived,” says Alexa, 8.
In areas of the Philippines affected by the typhoon, about 90 per cent of school buildings were damaged – more than 3,200 schools in all – leaving over a million pupils and 34,000 teachers with no place for learning. In Leyte province alone, 760 schools were damaged. The Philippine Government, with the support of UNICEF and other partners, has worked to get children back to a normal schedule as quickly as possible, first with a ‘soft’ opening of schools in December, to be followed by a full reopening in January.
Moving towards recovery
In addition to supplying tents for classrooms, UNICEF has provided learning and recreational materials and has brought in teachers – some of them from other disaster-struck areas to share their knowledge and experience. Latrines and hand-washing facilities for boys and girls have been installed, as well.
As of 2 December, eight UNICEF-supported schools in Leyte province had reopened their doors, and three more were due to be open as soon as the debris could be removed to make space for a tent. An additional 25 schools are scheduled to be set up in the coming days.
Getting back to learning helps children establish a routine, an important step toward recovery, and it helps teachers identify which pupils are in need of special attention.
UNICEF Education Officer Yul Adelfo Olaya used to be a student here at Palo Central School. “The message that wants to be sent is that it’s possible, that even in the destruction, education can continue,” he says.
Children were worried, he says, because they had lost their school materials in the typhoon.
“They kept telling me how they will continue their schools without books. They have been trying to dry them,” says Mr. Olaya. “The experience of children in surviving in this kind of disaster is more important than the content of the textbooks combined.”
Before the typhoon, Palo Central School had 1,913 pupils. When it reopened, about half of them showed up. Six children from the school reportedly died in the storm.
Today at Palo Central School, it’s clear that the typhoon does not have the last word, even if the surroundings are a picture of destruction. It’s the energy of children at school, united and raising their hands together, that will shape the future of the country.