30 March 2015 – As Vanuatu’s schools officially reopen Unicef and its partners are supporting the Government of Vanuatu to provide assistance to 30,000 school-aged children from early childhood to secondary school level who have been affected by Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam.
Early assessment data suggests that 50 per cent of the schools in Tafea, Torba, Penama, Malampa and Shefa provinces suffered damage to infrastructure, facilities and resources. Of the 400 schools affected – including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), primary and secondary schools – 250 suffered damage to infrastructure, facilities and resources.
Unicef, in collaboration with the Government of Vanuatu and partners such as Save the Children, is providing urgent assistance to schools with provision of school education and recreation supplies, tents for use as temporary classrooms and school kits for children that will provide temporary relief and support teachers and students alike to resume classes. Initial shipments have already reached children in badly-affected areas such as the Shepherd Islands and Efate Island with futher supplies en route to affected communities across the country.
However, as many schools reopen and children across Vanuatu return to classes, some will have to wait much longer to resume their studies. Children like Joyleen (16) from Ifira Island will experience delays of up to two months before her completely destroyed school reopens and, even in communities where schools have sustained partial damage, the number of children returning to school is low.
Catherine Warsal, Deputy Principal of St Joseph’s Primary School on Efate Island reported today that just 170 of her 330 students had returned to school for their first day back. “I am worried about those who haven’t returned, it’s likely that their family homes have been destroyed and they are unable to return. The children like school and love coming so we hope they will return soon.”
On badly-affected Tanna Island, the School Principal of Lenakel Presbyterian College Mr Shim George is facing an uphill battle to resume classes. Six of 10 classrooms were destroyed, as well as the dining room, boys’ dormitories and teacher’s quarters. All learning resources have been damaged. “For us it will take some time before we recover and return to normal. For the students it will affect them a lot, especially final year students who have important exams. We would like to restart their education as soon as possible, somehow, somewhere, so they are not so badly affected.”
Unicef Pacific Representative Dr. Karen Allen adds “It is critically important for children to return to school, even if it is a temporary location or facility, immediately after an emergency because schools keep children safe from harm, minimum disruption to learning enables them to progress as expected to exams, and the school day gives them a sense of normalcy and stability that helps them to psychologically recover.”
Unicef is also sending ‘back to school’ back packs containing school supplies to children in cyclone-affected Tuvalu, an archipelago nation made up of nine islands, where a state of emergency is also in place following tidal surges caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam that affected the northern islands.
“Often the cost of replacing school supplies is too much for a family to cover when their homes, possessions and livelihoods have been damaged or destroyed,” said Dr. Allen. These kits facilitate children’s return to school and provide a reminder that education should remain a top priority for affected students and their families even in the face of immense challenges.”
Over the next few weeks, Unicef will work closely with targeted schools as part of nationwide efforts in Vanuatu to ensure that all affected children in countries affected by Cyclone Pam are able to resume their studies.
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