Disaster relief - School is still out after the typhoon

7th February 2014 at 00:00
Many children remain missing from classrooms in Philippines

Three months after the Philippines was hit by a devastating typhoon, barely a quarter of secondary school-aged children in the worst affected areas have returned to classrooms, government figures reveal.

More than 1,200 schools were destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in the hardest-hit region of Eastern Visayas. Although children have returned to lessons in some areas, in the capital city of Tacloban the attendance rate for primary-aged children is just 40 per cent, while in secondary schools it is only 28 per cent.

A Back to Learning campaign has been launched by the country's Department of Education, alongside Unicef and other education charities, aimed at encouraging 550,000 children back to school within the year.

An estimated 6,000 people were killed and 4.1 million people had to leave their homes when the storm, known locally as Yolanda, hit on 8 November last year. The typhoon was possibly the strongest ever to strike land, with winds of up to 235mph.

Cogon Elementary School in Palo, in Eastern Visayas, was badly affected, with 11 classrooms flattened and others severely damaged.

Before the typhoon hit, 480 students were registered at the school, but when it reopened - after receiving a classroom tent and supplies from Unicef - just 144 students enrolled. The storm is known to have claimed the lives of 17 students, including five kindergarten children, and two teachers. Others may have been forced to move out of the area.

Principal Josephine N Daza said: "I knew the school would be damaged because of the very strong weather, but I did not expect that it would be totally destroyed. We did not expect the gravity of the storm and the devastation, or that people would die, especially my co-teachers and students."

The United Nations is appealing for $788 million (#163;483 million) to fund its relief effort in the country; as of this week it has received $356 million. For education specifically it needs $45.7 million, but has so far distributed just $25.8 million.

To date, the aid has helped to fund more than 1,200 school-sized tents and tarpaulins in the four affected provinces. Unicef and its partner charities have reached an estimated 378,890 children by delivering 1,800 "school in a box" kits, containing basic classroom supplies such as a blackboard, chalk, exercise books, pencils and a register, as well as 400 similar preschool kits and 1,350 boxes of physical education equipment.

Ms Daza was unable to make the journey to school until a week after the typhoon struck. Despite the devastation, she is determined to reopen her school. "Maybe I still have a mission to do," she said. "That's why God allowed me to live. That's why I have to be strong for my family, for the people who depend on me. Because I am a teacher and I have a responsibility to do so."

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