Restarting education a top priority for children of Samoan tsunami
Apia, Sunday 11 October, 2009 – The UN Children’s Fund is working closely with the Samoan Government Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) to ensure that tsunami-affected children are able to resume their education as soon as possible. This is especially important for Grade 8 students who need to prepare for national exams taking place on 9 November.
The 8.3 magnitude tsunami that hit southern parts of Samoa on 29 September destroyed five schools – four primary and one secondary – directly affecting almost 1,100 children. Many classrooms, toilet blocks and potable water facilities were completely destroyed, with debris such as glass and steel strewn about making it too dangerous for even temporary learning spaces to be run on site.
But starting later this week, children from the tsunami-affected schools are expected to join students at seven neighbouring host schools that are still operational.
UNICEF Emergency Education Specialist, Phuong T. Nguyen, says that although relocating children to host schools will mean an inevitable strain on classroom space, and water and sanitation facilities, it is vital for children to return to schooling as quickly as possible.
“Education helps to establish a sense of normalcy in children’s lives, something that they especially need after the destruction of the tsunami.
“Schools also provide a safe and protective environment for children, and somewhere to reconnect with children their own age. This can help overcome psychological and other forms of distress they are likely to be feeling.
“Education is also essential because children are by nature curious and hungry for learning, and it’s their right to get an education.”
Ms. Nguyen says that UNICEF is working closely with the Samoan Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to help coordinate and supply equipments urgently needed by the host schools to cope with the increased number of students.
“We are assessing the urgent needs and coordinating with the Ministry about what equipment UNICEF and other partners can provide.”
“Urgent needs include transport for displaced students, who will have to travel up to 5km each day to and from their host schools. There is also a need for temporary learning spaces, classroom furniture, toilet facilities, additional supplies of safe water, and first aid kits.
“UNICEF has the capacity to provide a range of school-related equipments -- such as tents, School-In-a-Box kits and water tanks -- so that tsunami-affected children will be able to continue their education in a safe and protective environment.
Ms.Nguyen says that UNICEF has identified a number of initiatives that would help students and teachers in the longer term. One is providing teachers with psycho-social training so that they can support students to recover from tsunami-related issues. Another initiative involves emergency preparedness and education for disaster risk reduction so as to better prepare them and their families for what they can do to reduce disaster impacts for future natural disasters.
Phuong T. Nguyen
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