Jonabelle dreams of big waves

Most schools in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines were battered by huge waves and fierce winds and left clogged with mud and debris. But although badly damaged, their doors are now open and classes have resumed.

Jonabelle Duquila, 11, is a Haiyan survivor, who lives with her family in the village of San Fernando on Samar, on the far east of the Philippines. San Fernando is situated on flat land, right on the sea shore. When the typhoon hit on November 8, the storm surge washed through the village, leaving it in ruins.

During the storm, Jonabelle’s family sheltered upstairs in their house. “I saw that there were people on the roof of the house across the street. When the storm surge came, they clung to the edge of the roof,” she says.

Jonabelle’s family survived the typhoon but elsewhere in San Fernando, the storm claimed 13 victims, including two children who Jonabelle knew personally.

“I have dreamt that the big waves come again. I woke up when I fell out of my bed.”

We met Jonabelle playing with friends in the yard of the village school, which is badly damaged. The side of the building facing the sea has collapsed. Most of the roof is gone. The floors of the classrooms are covered with mud. Schoolbooks ruined by water have been lifted onto benches to dry.

600,000 children without school

To help children such as Jonabelle to get back to school, Finn Church Aid (FCA), a member of the ACT Alliance, has decided to build at least 50 temporary classrooms in the affected areas.

FCA procures all or most of the materials locally and hires a local construction company to manage the work and handle logistics. The bulk of the work will be done by people in the community in a cash-for-work -project, which offers survivors remuneration if they carry out repair or rebuilding work in the community. The temporary classrooms will be erected quickly, with metal frames, coconut wood floors and palm fibre walls and ceilings.

According to the Department of Education of the Philippines, there are approximately 3800 damaged schools and 600,000 school-aged children without a place to study.

But why build schools when also 1,2 million homes have been destroyed?

After a catastrophe, it is vital that children can return to school as soon as possible. In an unstable environment, the school is a safe place and offers meaningful activities. When children go to school, parents do not have to worry about them and can instead concentrate on the family’s livelihood.

Studying under a tarpaulin

Now about 90 per cent of the children are back at school. “Most of the children who have not returned, are still staying with their relatives living outside the affected areas,” says Merja Färm, FCA humanitarian assistance coordinator in the Philippines.

“Nearly all schools in our areas of operation have opened after Christmas break. Only a few classrooms are still intact, so children are studying under tarps. But heavy rains make studying very difficult – I can only admire the patience of the teachers,” says Färm.

“For example the school in Bobon in Mercedes, Samar, has one room, filled to the brim, where two teachers teach four classes. It is the only room in the building which still has a roof. It is a bit noisy there, but the children seem happy to be at school.”

Text: Ulla Kärki / FCA
Photo: Ville Asikainen / FCA