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In Tanay Rizal, the Philippines, Patricio Jarin Elementary School Principal Imelda Custodio shows the school's flooded sports field. Evacuees have been living in the school buildings beside the field for more than a month.
MANILA, Philippines, 25 November 2009 – Most schools in metropolitan Manila have reopened after four typhoons caused massive flooding in September and October, but teachers and students in the flood zone are still in urgent of school supplies.
The typhoons that hit the Philippines caused flooding in more than 80 per cent of the capital, as well as other areas. Close to 1,000 people were killed and 1.7 million were displaced or living in areas that remained flooded.
The crisis also took a major toll on education. More than 3,400 schools were affected, and many opened their doors as evacuation centres for displaced families. As a result, teachers had to use a range of strategies to protect children's right to quality education – as enshrined in Article 28 of the Convention in the Rights of the Child, which applies even in emergency or post-emergency situations.
School as shelter
Among the worst-affected areas is Rizal province, just outside Manila. Some communities here are still submerged and accessible only by boat. Several schools remain partially flooded, and many others still serve as evacuation centres.
Displaced families stand in several inches of water inside their make-shift homes in flooded classrooms at Patricio Jarin Elementary School. Several families share each room, using tarps and cloth to separate living quarters.
On a weekday in early November, Patricio Jarin Elementary School Principal Imelda Custodio gave a tour of the damage at her school. Ms. Custodio pointed to a large sports field nearby that now looks more like a lake.
Across the flooded field, displaced people were crowded into several classrooms where they were living temporarily. A few inches of water still covered the floors and an outside walkway.
Inside their makeshift quarters, several families were sleeping on tables and wooden boards, with cloth and tarps tied up to separate each family's living space. One room had 13 families crammed in. Some who can't afford to buy boots were barefoot, and many had pruned feet from standing in the water.
Despite the major disruptions caused by the floods, students here were back in classes in Patricio Jarin's dry classrooms. The school had to merge classes and ask students to attend in shifts because space was too tight to fit all the students and evacuees.
Getting back to normal
Back in Manila, Philippines Undersecretary of Education Antonio Inocentes said education took a back seat after the floods, when schools were taking in so many evacuees.
Students at Patricio Jarin Elementary School, where classes are being held next to the flooded sports field, near the area of the school that is being used to house families displaced by floods.
But the Department of Education has been working with non-governmental partners to get schools back up and running as quickly as possible, he said. Together they've helped distribute school-supply packs to children returning to affected schools. The goal is to restore a sense of normalcy for students.
"We found it very therapeutic for the children when they can be again with their classmates, be able to laugh and to talk, and again do normal things," said Mr. Inocentes.
Teachers and administrators also had to adapt their usual rules and teaching methods to fit the challenging circumstances. In affected areas, for example, schools let parents know that they could send children to school in their regular clothes if they didn't have the proper uniforms. And some teachers travelled to students' houses or to evacuation centres when it was too dangerous or costly for the children to come to school.
Psycho-social help for students
At Pinagbuhatan Elementary School in Pasig City, on Manila's outskirts, floodwater and mud damaged desks, chairs, teaching materials and student records. The school reopened in late October after a month of clean-up, repairs and re-stocking.
Many of the students' homes and belongings were damaged or destroyed. After weeks of cleaning out the mud, sixth-grader Louie Mangali said his family's house was still a mess. Like many other students, Louie also lost his school supplies. But he said some of his classmates had suffered more. They were still finding it difficult to concentrate on their studies because what they had experienced during or after the storms.
"Some of my classmates weren't able to relate with the class discussion and they weren't able to do their assignments," Louie noted.
Hundreds lost their lives during the crisis, and some students lost friends or loved ones, or witnessed tragedies. Many schools stepped in to give psycho-social support as children coped with loss. Teachers such as Mary Jane Lattao tried to use alternative education methods.
"We counselled them, we shared experiences and we let them play some games to avoid boredom," said Ms. Lattao.
Re-establishing education after an emergency can play an important role in helping children overcome its psycho-social impact. Post-disaster education can also teach children critical skills, according to UNICEF Philippines Education in Emergencies consultant Arnaldo Arcadio.
"Education can be life-saving, because we provide children with information on health, water, sanitation and nutrition," he said. "We incorporate that into classroom discussions so that they will know how to survive in those conditions."
Mr. Arcadio added that children can teach their family members about the dangers of playing in floodwaters, the risks in evacuation centres and how to avoid them, and the importance of washing their hands with soap before and after eating and using the toilet. In many ways, he said, this aspect of education is as important an emergency response as the provision of food, water and sanitation.
Alternative ways to deliver education
In the wake of the recent typhoons, NGOs are taking lessons from these and past storms to better prepare for future natural disasters. UNICEF is working with the Philippines school authorities to develop alternative ways of delivering education – including self-learning exercises that students can do if they can't get to school.
"With these alternative delivery modes, we will be able to minimize the disruption in schooling and, at the same time, ensure that children are safe in their homes – but with their learning activities continued," said UNICEF Philippines Chief of Education Lulay de Vera Mateo.
To make up for time lost during the floods, several schools are extending school hours, shortening holiday breaks or holding make-up classes on Saturday. The country's National Disaster Coordinating Council estimates that it could take until late December for some of the worst-affected schools to reopen.