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Education uncertain for young typhoon survivors

As new term begins, as many as 1.12m have no school to go back to

Education uncertain for young typhoon survivors

Schools in devastated areas are struggling to re-open (photo by Vincent Go)

Ronald O. Reyes, Tacloban City

January 6, 2014

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Justine, 13, sits on a fallen coconut tree to pass the time in the town of Basey, in Samar province. Schools here have been closed for two months, since Typhoon Haiyan hit the province on November 8, flattening everything in its path and killing more than 6,000 people.

"I feel sad. Some of my friends are gone. I don’t know where they went," he says. "I just sit outside our house remembering school with my classmates.” 

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Christine Navarra says she has only recently been able to sleep soundly after the typhoon leveled her home in Palo, Leyte province.

While schools remain shuttered, the high school sophomore busies herself by cleaning the yard and helping fix the makeshift hut her family now calls home. 

"My second year of high school has become memorable because of Haiyan’s destruction," Navarra says. Her school, which is just a stone's throw away from her house, has been completely destroyed except for three of its 35 classrooms.

Justine and Christine are among some four million children in typhoon-hit areas who would normally expect to return to their schools today, many of which remain in ruins.

The reopening of classes in typhoon-devastated areas will help "normalize" the lives of people, said a statement from the Education Department.

But in other affected areas, where classes had already resumed, the international aid group Save the Children noted that attendance was low.

“Despite thousands of classrooms reopening, there is still vital outreach work to be done to boost attendance rates, with only 30 percent of available school places being taken up so far," the group said in a statement.

As many as 1.12 million children who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan are currently without access to education, according to Save the Children.

"Returning to school is important for children to regain a routine and a sense of normalcy. It also provides children with psycho-social support and protects them from hazardous labor and trafficking," said Rachel McKinney, education adviser for Save the Children.

The United Nations Children's Fund has set up two tents in what remains of Christine’s school to serve as temporary classrooms.

In other areas of Samar and Leyte, structures have been built where children can gather and play, which aid groups say will help ease the trauma of the disaster.

Government data shows that some four million people continue to live in makeshift houses and evacuation centers, most of which are schools.

Michael Regis, a school principal in the town of Palo, expressed hope that the reconstruction of schools would start immediately "for the sake of the students”.

The government will need about $895 million to build some 5,900 classrooms that were completely destroyed by the typhoon, according to the Education Department.

The government-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation has promised to help rebuild schools in the area. "We want to give these kids new school buildings with decent and comfortable learning facilities," said Cristino Naguiat Jr, head of the agency.

"By doing our share in the government’s rehabilitation efforts, we can give hope and provide assistance to the students who are now studying in makeshift classrooms," he added.

Merlie Asprer, of the Adopt-a-School program in the Education Department, said they are "hoping to raise more funds through the public-private partnership."

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