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Tsunami-affected children head back to school in Samoa

© UNICEF Samoa/2009/Youngmeyer
Children at undamaged Palalaua College, southern Samoa, attend a school assembly before going home for the day. Students from Falealili Secondary School are expected to relocate to the college, about 5 km away, in order to continue their lessons.

By David Youngmeyer

APIA, Samoa, 12 October 2009 – UNICEF is working closely with the Samoan Government’s Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture to ensure that tsunami-affected children are able to resume their education as soon as possible.

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The tsunami that hit southern Samoa on 29 September – triggered by a powerful undersea earthquake – destroyed four primary schools and one secondary school, directly affecting almost 1,100 children.

Many classrooms, toilet blocks and potable water facilities were lost in the disaster. At the same time, glass, steel and other debris was strewn about, making it too dangerous to run temporary learning spaces on the sites of the destroyed schools.

Host schools
Starting this week, however, children from the tsunami-affected schools are expected to join students at seven neighbouring host schools.

© UNICEF Samoa/2009/Nguyen
Rubble from the heavily damaged school building lies strewn about on the grounds of Falealili Secondary School in Samoa.

UNICEF Emergency Education Specialist Phuong T. Nguyen says that although relocating children to host schools will inevitably put a strain on classroom space, and on water and sanitation facilities, it is vital for children to resume their studies 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,” she notes. “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.”

Vital equipment
UNICEF is helping to coordinate and supply the equipment that host schools need in order to accommodate 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,” Says Ms. Nguyen.

© UNICEF Samoa/2009/Youngmeyer
UNICEF Emergency Education Specialist Phuong T. Nguyen (second from right) leads a discussion with students at Palalaua College.

One urgent need is for transportation for the displaced students, many of whom will have to travel up to 5 km each day to and from their host schools. Other needs include temporary learning spaces, classroom furniture, toilet facilities, additional supplies of safe water, and first aid kits.

Supplies and training
To help meet these needs, UNICEF is providing a range of school-related equipment, including tents for use as classrooms, School-in-a-Box kits (each providing basic classroom materials for about 80 students) and water tanks.

UNICEF is also providing teachers with psycho-social training so that they can help students to recover from tsunami-related stress. Another initiative involves providing education on emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction to better prepare children and their families for future natural disasters.




10 October 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF’s efforts to help Samoan children get back into school following last month’s tsunami.
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