Education on hold in Saint Vincent as fallout from volcano continues

The erupting La Soufriere volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has placed the education of almost 33,000 children on hold.

By Patrick Knight
15 April 2021
Volcano La Soufriere
UNICEF/UN0441960/Samuel

KINGSTOWN, 15 April 2021 - The erupting La Soufriere volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has placed the education of almost 33,000 children on hold, with no idea of when they will be able to resume classes.

Primary and secondary school students in the Eastern Caribbean country had been preparing to return to school on 12 April 2021 but when the volcano, located in the northern end of the country, erupted on 9 April, education was placed on the backburner as the government moved to provide shelter for evacuated citizens.

Over 70 of the islands’ 94 primary and secondary schools are among the 89 shelters currently hosting over 4,000 residents from the designated red zone who were given a mandatory order to evacuate the areas near the volcano. Between 16 – 20,000 residents were evacuated, with many finding temporary accommodation on their own.

 

young girls are seen using safe drinking water outside of a shelter in Saint Vincent.
UNICEF/UN0441962/Garraway
Dos niñas se proveen de agua potable fuera de un albergue en San Vicente.

Schools were closed in December 2020 as the government implemented strict measures to address rising COVID-19 cases. Since then, cases have declined and a vaccination programme – targeting  teachers, among other key sectors of the population – influenced authorities to give the green light to a resumption of in- person education.

Seventeen -year-old secondary school Jenique Matthias said the school closure is a big setback for her as she was in an advantaged stage of preparing for the Caribbean-wide Caribbean Examination Council’s school leaving proficiency exam which could largely determine her access to  higher studies and determine her employment prospects.

Jenique Matthias
Orvil Samuel
Jenique Matthias, 17, longs to get back to school to continue her education.

 “I can’t get to study now or complete the school-based part of the exams,” she said, adding that self-studying in the shelter is hard because of the lack of privacy.

“This has all impacted me significantly,” Jenique adds.

With the country still struggling to come to grips with life in the aftermath of a volcano spewing ash and pyroclastic flows daily, online education has also been suspended.

UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area Dr Aloys Kamuragiye said the agency remains  focussed on responding to the immediate needs of displaced citizens.  An initial shipment of water and sanitation supplies which reached Saint Vincent within 24 hours of the eruption has been supplemented with additional shipments of personal protective equipment.

“The situation is still very dire for children and their families and we are continuing to work with authorities to respond to the immediate basic needs in this phase. At the same time, we are carrying out the needs assessment and will work to help return the situation in Saint Vincent to normalcy as soon as possible,” Dr. Kamuragiye maintained.

UNICEF has estimated that it will need an additional US$1.1 million to respond to the immediate needs of children and their families in the next four weeks.

The Bethel High School is now home to over 100 evacuees.
Orvil Samuel
The Bethel High School is now home to over 100 evacuees.