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Searching for safety and schooling in Antigua

 Searching for safety and schooling in Antigua

Many young people from hurricane-ravaged Dominica are arriving on the neighbouring island in the hope of continuing their education.

Peter* is exhausted, anxious and withdrawn. The 15-year-old boy has just taken the most daunting step in his young life: to leave his country, Dominica, and travel to Antigua because he feels there is no immediate future at home and he is desperate to continue his schooling.

 

Hurricane Maria, the most powerful and destructive storm ever to hit the island when it struck on September 18, left him with more than “cuts and bruises and stuff”. It “mashed-up” his house in the northwest town of Portsmouth which he shared with his great grandmother, and meant that he no longer had enough to eat, didn’t know what to do or where to turn if he stayed. So he made his decision.

 

“People were telling me if I have family in Antigua I should just go there and not stay in Dominica doing nothing.  I went to the airport to get on one of the relief flights. There were a lot of us young people doing the same thing. When I arrived in Antigua I went to find my aunts but they had no room for me so I am staying with a friend now. I want to find a proper place to stay, to build a life in Antigua. I want to go to school.”

 

A wave of children on their way

 

Peter is not alone. According to estimates by the Ministry of Education, between 300 and 600 Dominican children are expected to enrol in Antigua’s schools in Maria’s aftermath. This is in addition to 100 such children who were integrated into the country’s education system in 2015 following tropical storm Erika.

 

Muriel Mafico, UNICEF Deputy Representative for the Eastern Caribbean, says that the UN children’s agency is fully committed to helping Peter and those like him to go to school in Antigua. 

 

“When I met Peter I could see he was a very determined young man who knows why getting a good education is so important. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and other partners to rapidly equip Antigua’s schools to absorb hundreds of additional students while ensuring quality education.”

 

Schooling is not the only pressing issue on Mafico’s mind, however. “Although determined, Peter also appears drained, worried and a bit fearful. He comes for a family of 10 and he has left them behind. His experiences during the hurricane must have been deeply traumatic and he will need psychosocial support. And with so many Dominican children arriving in Antigua alone, this raises serious child protection concerns. Many will be well looked after, of course, but some may become vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.”

 

Mafico added, “UNICEF is committed to working with partners in Antigua and other affected countries such as Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Dominica and Turks and Caicos Islands, to support child protection systems. Children need safe spaces.”

 

Peter hopes that Antigua will indeed be a safe space for him and that he can go to school. He says simply, “I need an education to live a good life.”  

 

*Not his real name

 

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About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org.

To contribute to UNICEF’s response, please go at: https://support.unicef.org/donate/hurricane-irma

For more information, please contact:

Patrick Knight, Communication Specialist, UNICEF Office for the Eastern Caribbean Area Phone:

246 467-6162 p

 

 

 
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