MINDANAO, Philippines: It’s the end of the school day at a middle school in Iligan City, Mindanao, Philippines, and children are milling about excitedly, poking each other in the ribs as they strut to the school gates. Meanwhile in the gym, 400 children from a nearby elementary school are noisily pouring out of makeshift classrooms separated by small partitions. They have no uniforms – they barely have any books now – and their learning days haven’t been the same since their school was destroyed as Typhoon Sendong ripped through parts of the Philippines on December 16.
The impact of the storm on children’s lives has been immense. School buildings in Mindanao were washed away and countless books and materials were destroyed as the river swelled with timber and debris and the water raged, affecting thousands of children and disrupting their school year.
Limuel, 13, is one of the students from what used to be the elementary school. He lost his mother and sister in the floods. They’re bodies haven’t been recovered, but he often dreams about them, he says.
“All I wish for is a permanent school. I wish for a playground,” says Limuel, who wants to be an engineer when he grows up. “In the old school we had our books and the old room where we could concentrate.”
The cramped conditions in the makeshift school are hardly conducive to learning, but there won’t be an alternative until land can be found on which to build a new school – and that takes time and money, two luxuries the people of Mindanao are running thin on as local government tries to relocate 25,900 people to new homes.
“The old school was very beautiful with complete facilities and privacy,” says Mayenita, 16, who lost three sisters in the disaster. “We don't even have our books here to read.”
Out of 538 students, more than 80 are still missing and five have already been confirmed dead, says Alvin Villacin, the school's grade 4 teacher.
“We are now back to zero. The children need a lot of support. There's a lack of money and we need to buy land. There have been donations, but we don't have the same books as before.”
Plan International and other organisations have set up temporary learning spaces, donated materials and facilitated the delivery of textbooks to schools in Mindanao, as well as affected parts of Negros Oriental, but now that the initial emergency phase of the disaster is over, agencies are looking at more mid- and long-term solutions – all of which require funding.
Aid agencies have appealed for $39 million to support people affected by Sendong, but only $1.1 million of that is for education. As of February 3, just 27% of the appeal allotted for education had been funded, compared with 62% water, sanitation and hygiene, and 40% for emergency shelter, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Plan International's own appeal for $1.5 million has so far reached $1 million.
“Schools need text books,” says Telesforo Laplana, Plan's disaster risk reduction project coordinator in the Philippines. “We've provided some basic school kits, but there normally aren't enough books for kids. Everything was stored in the schools and so all their materials are now ruined.”
Education is a key area often overlooked when disasters strike, says Carin van der Hor, country director of Plan Philippines.
“There is very little funding for education in disaster situations, but it's one of the big needs here. We still need money for that. Schools have to be rebuilt and most of the education materials were lost,” she adds.
“We could do more if the funding was there, we could provide more materials. The people most affected by Sendong were the poorest people on Mindanao who lived on the riverbanks.”
At another elementary school, also in Iligan, teacher Mindaya Hadjinasser Sarip tells Plan about seeing her home and school -- located by the river and about 50 metres from each other -- washed away as she scampered up a coconut tree to avoid the rolling water.
“The coconut trees didn't topple under the pressure from the water, but the school and my home disappeared,” she says.
Like many others, Mindaya wants to move on now and has begun teaching at a site just over the road in makeshift classrooms fashioned out of large tents donated by the UN Children's Fund.
While there may be hope in the air, money and coordinated efforts are needed to keep children's education on track in Mindanao.
“We just want to move on now,” adds Mindaya. “With support from the local government, Plan and other international organisations, we are confident we can rebuild our lives.”
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FOR MORE INFORMATION,
Mardy Halcon Communication Officer Plan Philippines Tel: +63 917-5435210 email@example.com