The long road back to school in Anguilla after hurricane Irma

Jasmine Hodge-Thomas, principal of Valley Primary, says they need hard work and optimism to see that schools reopen on Monday

Gabriel Moore
28 September 2017

At Valley Primary School, the largest primary on the island with more than 440 pupils, the teachers and I are working flat out to get ready for reopening in the next few days. It is a massive task. There’s still no electricity and no running water. Much of our infrastructure has been very badly damaged and we lost roofs from most of our blocks. Wooden room partitions came down and blocked doors so for a good few days we couldn’t get in to assess what we could salvage. We had prepared for the hurricane by covering equipment and materials with plastic bags and putting them in the middle of the room but the wind and rain still ruined them.  We just had no idea there could be this level of destruction. 

When we saw it all we felt crushed, really crushed. The teachers had been very excited about the start of the new year, preparing their classrooms and putting up their charts and visual aids for the children. And now look what we are facing, trying to clean all this up. It’s a serious challenge; there are still so many things that need to be done. There’s debris everywhere, galvanise metal sheets strewn across the compound, the fences are all down.   We’re drawing water from the tanks with buckets using long ropes. The lack of electricity means that the water can’t be pumped at the moment.  We have been promised a generator but we haven’t seen one yet. I know we are all doing our best.

I wonder if we’ll be ready

The education department is pushing us to be ready for next week as it’s so important to start getting back to normal. But I wonder if we can meet the schedule. There are so many things we have yet to do before we can actually say that the children will be in a safe environment

I also think that the teachers need a little break because many of us have suffered ourselves. Things are not yet back to normal in my own home and I’m still sleeping in my living room. Some of the doors were damaged and a lot of furniture and books got wet. I can’t get them dry properly but I’m trying!

We would have welcomed more help from our community to get the school ready but everybody is affected in one way or another and they have been dealing with their own issues, so we couldn’t put any pressure on them if they weren’t able to come. We did as much as we could on our own. People have been spending long hours in queues waiting for provisions from the Red Cross or disaster preparedness units. There have been tremendous lines at the gas stations too

Some people have lost everything, their homes, their possessions. How are children going to come to school when they have no clothes now? We are going to be as flexible as we can on uniforms; it’s fine if they aren’t dressed to standard. We will welcome them with open arms. Another serious issue, though, is the loss of documents in the hurricane. It’s obviously very hard to register the children for school when documents have been lost.


Taking pictures of flowers

It has been very depressing. I had taken a lot of pictures on my phone to record the damage but I ended up deleting most of them as it was just too painful. I admit I have sometimes cried. I’ve started taking pictures of the flowers that have been springing up. It gives me hope. I need to stay strong for the children, the teachers, the community.

I can’t wait to see the pupils again. From what I hear a lot of them are dying to come back to school. They say they are bored and want to see their friends, that their houses are too dark and make them feel anxious.   Many must be feeling traumatized so I’m glad that UNICEF has started the “Return to Happiness” programme this week which uses play-related activities to help them cope with their experiences. A couple of our teachers were trained and are currently holding sessions. They say it’s going well and that the children are telling them it’s fun and that they’re enjoying it.

Our motto at the moment is: it’s not business as usual.  We’ll do the best we can.  Anguillans are a resilient people. We are pulling together, helping each other to get over this. There is still a long way to go. But we are hopeful.

anguilla valley primary internal shot
Gabriel Moore
anguilla valley primary building
Gabriel Moore