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Pupils blown off course by big wind

As Hurricane Luis stormed across the Atlantic last month towards the small Caribbean island of Antigua, the people of Golden Grove - on the edge of the island's capital, St John's - hurried to take refuge in their local primary school. Within hours of the hurricane striking, its roof was blown off.

A month later, the roof was still off, the playground was littered with jagged pieces of galvanised sheeting and furniture lay in shattered heaps in classrooms where textbooks, worksheets and teachers' class files were piled up in a soggy memorial to the worst hurricane to hit the island this century.

Antigua, roughly 10 miles by 12, and with a population of 80,000, features regularly in travel brochures, where its white, palm-fringed beaches, its replica pirate ship and its bars serving happy-hour pina coladas promise everything for the two-week package holiday.

But should the tourists leave their hotels, for the duration of their stay.

Were they to do so, they would find an underclass striving to cope with pit latrines, power cuts, water shortages, pot-holed roads and, since last month, many badly damaged homes.

As tourism is the island's prime source of income, the priority has been the restoration of power and water to hotels and restaurants, leaving disrupted primary schools low on the list of priorities.

Older pupils have lessons in shifts in the schools which are less badly damaged, but younger pupils cannot be accommodated because the distances are too great to walk.

The frustration felt by many parents was heightened by the knowledge that despite a 2.5 per cent education levy imposed earlier this year by prime minister Lester Bird's government, and earmarked partly for the maintenance of school buildings, funds had apparently not been used for that purpose, as 75 per cent of buildings were damaged by the hurricane.

Later allegations in the local press that most government buildings were uninsured further upset those already worried about educational services on the island.

Representatives of the Pan American Health Organisation, were also dismayed to find that those schools designated as hurricane shelters had not been maintained to the required standards.

Because of fears of corruption, most overseas aid is given as technical assistance. One such project, due to start early next month, is sponsored by the British Overseas Development Administration and is intended to offer Antigua's youngsters a future brighter than they might otherwise have had.

The National Technical Training Centre is a central educational resource with facilities for teaching, among other subjects, masonry, technical drawing, home economics and computer studies. It will serve children aged 13-16.

So while hurricane clean-up work continues, parents of children at Golden Grove primary school can console themselves with the knowledge that though their younger children may be unable to attend school, older ones can look forward to starting their technical education at the new centre.

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