Hope and resilience for learning, amid destruction in the Philippines
By Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Philippines
TACLOBAN, 2 December 2013 – Damage and debris are the only sights in Tacloban. The occasional building that stands is a hollow shell, with roof and windows blown away. The road from Tacloban to Guiuan passes through the hardest-hit region of Leyte Province. On both sides, the road is lined with miles of devastated forest. Thousands of coconut trees, cowered by the wind, are broken and bent. Electrical poles are uprooted. Nothing stands.
Education infrastructure was not spared amid this devastation. In affected areas, some 90 per cent of school buildings were damaged – schools that were attended by over 1 million pupils and staffed with 34,000 teachers before the emergency.
Resilience to recover
Looking at the destruction, it is hard to imagine how the affected communities will recover and rebuild – until one meets and talks to the people.
On the way back from Guiuan to Tacloban, a UNICEF team led by Director of Emergency Operations Ted Chaiban spotted children, happy in their school uniforms, and stopped to check on the school. Despite sustaining serious damage, Quinapandon Central Elementary School was among the few schools to reopen on 26 November.
The principal of the school led Mr. Chaiban and Emergency Response Coordinator Angela Kearney to a first-grade classroom, where a smiling teacher greeted the team. She began to describe the effects of the disaster on children and their families.
A few minutes into the discussion, she began to cry as she shared that she lost her husband in the disaster. Her family now helps her to look after her two young children. But, for the sake of her students, she decided it was time to return to teaching. "It's a very difficult time, but the children will not get back to learning if I don't return," she explains.
Louisa Bautista, Regional Director for the Department of Education in Region VIII, is also advocating for the importance of uninterrupted learning for typhoon-affected children. In a meeting with UNICEF representatives, she shared the Government's plan to get children back in school – beginning with a preliminary opening in December, followed by a full opening in January.
"We shall rise from the ruins of the disaster. Bangon," she says. Meaning 'rise' in Tagalog, bangon has become a word of inspiration for Filipinos as recovery efforts continue.
Children eager to return to learning
The UNICEF team also stopped at Guiuan's Central Elementary School, which, according to the principal, is set to reopen in January.
Ten-year-old Jumar Dadol is a third-grade student at the school. The typhoon destroyed his home and caused both his parents to lose their livelihoods. He was hanging around the school compound, playing basketball with a few friends, when the UNICEF team arrived.
Mr. Chaiban and UNICEF Philippines Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist Nonoy Fajardo joined the match. Afterward, they and the other members of the team sat down with Jumar and the other children.
"I am waiting for the school to reopen," says Jumar. "I want to be with all my friends again [and] study and play."
Reflecting on his time in Tacloban and Guiuan, Mr. Chaiban said, "[I]n the last two days of traveling... all the stories we came across are stories of hope. People who have suffered from the typhoon are now looking ahead. The spirit of resilience is everywhere... And UNICEF is part of that story."
Despite the formidable path to recovery, communities are coming together in the spirit of bangon, to rise – and to recover.