In cramped conditions, classes resume in the Philippines

by Ulla Kärki | FinnChurchAid - Finland
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 10:09 GMT

Jonabelle Duquila, 11, in front of San Ferdanado school. Photo: Ville Asikainen / FCA

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Most schools in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines were battered by huge waves and fierce winds and left clogged with mud and debris. But although badly damaged, their doors are now open and classes have resumed.

Jonabelle Duquila is a Haiyan survivor, who lives with her family in the village of San Fernando on Samar, on the far east of the Philippines. San Fernando is situated on flat land, right on the seashore. When the typhoon hit on November 8, the storm surge washed through the village, leaving it in ruins.

During the storm, Jonabelle’s family sheltered upstairs in their house. “I saw there were people on the roof of the house across the street. When the storm surge came, they clung to the edge of the roof,” the 11-year-old says.

Jonabelle’s family survived the typhoon but elsewhere in San Fernando, the storm claimed 13 victims, including two children who Jonabelle knew personally.

"I have dreamt that the big waves come again. I woke up when I fell out of my bed."

We met Jonabelle playing with friends in the yard of the village school, which is badly damaged. The side of the building facing the sea has collapsed. Most of the roof is gone. The floors of the classrooms are covered with mud. Schoolbooks ruined by water have been left onto fences and windowsills to dry.

Some 600,000 children without school

To help children like Jonabelle get back to school, ACT Alliance member, Finn Church Aid (FCA), has decided to build at least 50 temporary classrooms in typhoon-hit areas.

FCA procures all or most materials locally and hires a local construction company to manage the work and handle logistics. The bulk of the work will be done by people in the community in a cash-for- work project, which offers survivors remuneration if they carry out repair or rebuilding work in the community. The temporary classrooms will be erected quickly, with metal frames, coconut wood floors and palm fibre walls and ceilings.

According to the Department of Education of the Philippines, about 3800 schools are damaged and 600,000 school-aged children left without a place to study. About 90 percent are back at school, with most of other others still with relatives outside the affected areas.

But why build schools when also 1.2 million homes have been destroyed?

FCA believes that after a catastrophe, it is vital that children return to school as soon as possible. In an unstable environment, school is safe and offers meaningful activities. When children go to school, parents do not have to worry about them and can instead concentrate on the family’s livelihood.

Studying under a tarpaulin

“Nearly all the schools in our areas of operation have opened after Christmas break,” says Merja Färm, FCA humanitarian assistance coordinator in the Philippines.

“Only a few classrooms are still intact, so children are studying under tarps. But heavy rains make studying very difficult. I can only admire the patience of the teachers.

“The school in Bobon, in Mercedes, Samar, has one room, filled to the brim, where two teachers teach four classes. It is the only room in the building which still has a roof. It is a bit noisy there but the children seem happy to be at school.”