Lessons to resume for volcano children

29th August 1997 at 01:00
Montserrat's education ministry is covered in ash but classes will continue for remaining pupils. Dorothy Stiven reports

Six nursery schools, five primaries and two-thirds of Montserrat's only secondary school have been destroyed. The education ministry in the capital, Plymouth, lies empty, covered in layers of volcanic ash.

Despite the devastation, the director of education, Mrs Oeslyn Jemmotte, has just promised to continue providing classes for any children left on the island.

She said: "As long as there are people here, we will offer the children some education.

"Some families would stay if they knew education was offered, but we cannot guarantee it. We were preparing for over a thousand pupils at primary and secondary level and 45 at the technical college; now we just don't know how many will be left."

The voluntary evacuation of the island, which the British and local government began last week, is causing confusion for the ministry of education, health and community services. The original population of 11,000 was served by nine nursery schools, nine primaries and a secondary schooltechnical college. Last year just over 2,000 pupils were on the school roll.

But Mrs Jemmotte has no idea how many children will remain to start the new academic term on September 8.

The few remaining schools on Montserrat are full of evacuees fleeing the Soufriere volcano, which has been erupting since June. Many are heading for neighbouring Antigua, but most are hoping to fly to Britain.

Much of the south of the island has been destroyed, including its capital Plymouth, which is buried under a layer of hot ash and rock. Thousands of homeless islanders, descendants of Irish immigrants and slaves, are crammed into the safe zone in the north, an area of only 12 square miles, and have taken refuge in schools left intact there. Scientists say the volcano's activity is escalating and expect it to become more violent and hazardous.

In the aftermath of the latest eruption, the education service is appealing for funds to replace school furniture, books and teaching materials. Now they hope that the remaining pupils can be accommodated in the school buildings which remain undamaged.

But despite the uncertainty, Mrs Jemmotte remains resolute that her department will continue to provide what service they can.

Reports of growing unrest among the Montserratians are adding to the colony's problems. In Salem last week, police broke up a riot of Rastafarian youths protesting against the British government's resettlement package.

As fears grow that an avalanche of red-hot gas, ash and rock could engulf the remaining area, the next few weeks may see a total evacuation of this once idyllic island.

Contributions to the Montserrat Appeal should be sent to Demitri Coryton at 73 Marine Avenue, Hove, East Sussex, BN3

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