International Aid - Rebuild schools to 'help children heal'

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
Prioritise education in ravaged Philippines, charities urge

As the Philippines struggles to recover from the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, international aid agencies have called for the rebuilding of schools to be made a priority so that children "can begin the healing process".

Up to 12,000 primary and secondary schools were destroyed in the typhoon, which hit the Philippines on 8 November. More than 4,000 people are believed to have died.

Aid agencies are battling to get basic supplies to the worst affected and most remote areas, but providing children with school-based support should also be a priority, according to charities.

Philippa Lei, head of education policy and advocacy at Save the Children, said that an estimated 4.5 million students were out of education as a result of the typhoon. Rebuilding schools as quickly as possible would protect them physically - from exploitation and harm - as well as psychologically, she told TES.

"It restores normality and order in the midst of chaos. Schools give them somewhere to go where parents know they will be safe while they have to queue for food, look for relatives or bury the dead," she said. "School means children don't have to grow up so quickly and take on those roles for their parents.

"The assessment of the current situation is that education is a huge need, but it is not getting sufficient attention. The official figures are something close to 12,000 primary and secondary schools destroyed."

Education was also an important part of an integrated response because schools could play a significant role as information and distribution hubs for the community, Ms Lei added.

The United Nations has issued an appeal for $301 million (#163;187 million) of emergency funding as the relief effort continues in the Philippines.

Along with water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, children's charity Unicef sent toys, jigsaw puzzles, art materials, students' packs and teachers' packs in the first wave of aid.

Ted Chaiban, the charity's director of emergency programmes, has also pressed for education services to be re-established as soon as possible. "What is important is to work on the resumption of basic social services so there is a sense of normalcy and children can access these services," he wrote in a blog post.

"Among the most important is the resumption of education so that children are in a familiar environment and begin the healing process ... In addition, children will need psychosocial support, to deal with the stress that they have been under, including the possible loss of lives in their families.

"We also need to start looking at early recovery and reconstruction activities from the get-go, starting with water systems but also looking at health and education infrastructure."

In 2008, Save the Children found that education was instrumental in helping children to deal with the trauma of disasters.

"In emergencies of all types, education is a consistent and persistent request from children and their families. Girls, boys and parents believe that schooling is important for the future development of children and communities," the charity's In the Face of Disaster report says.

In the longer term, education can also help communities to become more resilient. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Save the Children worked to provide disaster risk reduction lessons in schools. Children were involved in determining which areas were at risk and which were safe, and in developing evacuation plans.

Schools around the world have been raising money for the Typhoon Haiyan relief effort, including the British School Manila, in the Philippine capital, which was unaffected by the typhoon.

Alessandra Rodriguez, the 18-year-old treasurer of the school's Red Cross Youth Council, told TES that students had set up packing stations to fill more than 1,000 relief bags for the charity.

"Not only did I see parents, students and staff from our school community working at the packing stations but I saw students from other schools come in to help as well," she said. "The Red Cross truck had to return a second time as only half the bags we had filled were able to fit inside the vehicle."

See By the numbers, page 13.

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