The return to classes after the eruption

Emergency due to the eruption of Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala.

UNICEF Guatemala
© UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp
UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp

24 August 2018

The eruption of Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala on 3 June 2018 left more than 650,000 children and adolescents affected in the Departments of Sacatepéquez, Escuintla and Alotenango.  More than 12,000 were evacuated, and 3,700 people had to take refuge in shelters, including 1,434 boys, girls and adolescents.

From the beginning of the emergency, UNICEF activated its response focused on children and their families, in coordination with the Government and its allies.  Following the call for support by the Government of Guatemala to the international community, UNICEF reinforced and increased all its response capacity.

Thanks to the rapid response of UNICEF’s Supply Division and its warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, in just three days after the request, on 21 June, a shipment loaded with supplies arrived at La Aurora Airport in Guatemala.

The cargo contained 20 tents to build temporary classrooms and support the return to classes of more than 14,000 boys, girls and adolescents; 9,000 backpacks for school children; 60 recreation kits to engage students and adolescents in emergencies; and 30 Early Childhood Development kits.

The supplies were vital for returning to school on 9 July, almost a month after the eruption of the volcano -- a record time compared to other emergencies in Guatemala.


© UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Arteaga
UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Arteaga
UNICEF supplies arrived in the country on 21 June from Copenhagen.
© UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Arteaga
UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Arteaga
From left to right. Ramiro Quezada, Health and Nutrition Specialist, Focal Point in Emergencies; Esteban Cuevas, Operations Officer; and Ileana Cofiño, Education Specialist, receiving the emergency shipment from the UNICEF warehouse in Copenhagen at La Aurora Airport in Guatemala.


In addition to directly supporting affected children and families, UNICEF plays a coordinating role with agencies and international NGOs during emergencies in clusters for water and sanitation, child nutrition, protection of children and adolescents, and education. UNICEF’s supply contribution is worth approximately US$ 160,000.

“Thanks to the international support and commitment of the Ministry, the children have been able to return to school in just one month after the tragedy. In other emergencies, this took 3 to 4 months.”
Oscar Hugo López, Minister of Education.

Jorge Alejandro Astun, 9 years old, is one of the 14,000 children affected by the eruption, but with the help of UNICEF and partners, he has managed to return to school and regain a sense of normalcy. He also received one of the 9,000 backpacks supplied by UNICEF, which will help him finish the school year.


© UNICEF/GUA2018/Cordon
Jorge Alejandro Astun in his classroom at school, Mario Méndez Montenegro in Alotenango, Sacatepéquez.


“I was scared by what happened with the volcano because I thought the lava would come here. It affected us because we were not studying at school.”

“I really liked the backpack. It helps me carry my notebooks. It was hard for me before because I used to carry them loose.”

  Jorge Alejandro Astun, 9-years-old.






For many of the 14,000 children and adolescents whose normal life and school cycle were interrupted due to the damage and destruction, many of the schools were converted into temporary shelters, while others were used as warehouses for Government supplies.

Nayeli López, 10 years old, resumed her studies in one of the tents located in the Armando Barillas Municipal Stadium in Escuintla.

“I am very happy to have returned to study. My favorite class is mathematics, and when I grow up, I want to be an Expert Accountant.”
Nayeli López, 10 years old.

In addition, teachers were trained by the Ministry of Education and CONRED (National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction) with support from UNICEF, to provide education in emergencies, and to adequately and comprehensively care for the children and adolescents who were victims of the tragedy.


© UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp
UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp
Teacher provides special attention to the children who require it in the school tents at the Escuintla Municipal Stadium.
© UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp
UNICEF Guatemala/2018/Mussapp
Nayeli next to the school tent in the Escuintla Municipal.

In this emergency, the preparation and strength of UNICEF at the global level was demonstrated through the close, agile and professional collaboration of UNICEF Headquarters, regional office, country offices and Supply Division in Copenhagen.

The human, technical and financial support of UNICEF is possible thanks to the generosity and solidarity of government donations, such as the Government of Sweden, the UNICEF Global Emergency Fund, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office Emergency Fund, UNICEF US Fund, national and international NGOs.

Companies from the private sector also collaborated, such as BAC Credomatic, Hiper Ferreterías EPA, CentraRSE, Entrepreneurs for Education, Carlos Novella Foundation, Porta Hotels, through voluntary donations from Guatemalans, and UNICEF Guatemala’s own funds for emergencies.

Carlos Carrera, UNICEF Guatemala Representative, has made several visits to the emergency site, to the shelters and to the new temporary classrooms.

At the inauguration to resume classes for affected children, he said:

“In my visit to the affected families in the shelters, a few days after the eruption of the Volcano, I could see the pain of the children for having lost one of their relatives; as well as the sadness of having been deprived of their homes, friends, neighbors, schools and communities.

But I could also see how they were excited to play again, learn, share with their friends and get back together with their classmates.

That dream, dear boys, girls, adolescents, today becomes a reality. The dream is permanent and a symbol of hope, which will help you return to school and successfully complete the school year.

Every time a girl and a teenager is given the opportunity to study, there is hope.


UNICEF’s response focuses on four essential areas:

  1. Adequate nutrition for pregnant women, infants and children.
  2. Assistance and provision of water, sanitation and hygiene supplies for shelters and schools.
  3. Support for the return to classes and set-up of temporary classrooms for 14,000 girls, boys and adolescents in the affected areas, of all levels, including those who were not enrolled in the education system before the emergency.
  4. Support for psycho-social care of the victims and comprehensive protection of youth and adolescents sheltered or affected by the eruption of Volcán de Fuego against all types of abuse, mistreatment or violence, including psychological counseling.