Written by Nestor De Veyra, Education in Emergencies Advisor, Save the Children in the Philippines
I arrived in Davao City from Manila six days after the devastation of Typhoon Bopha in eastern parts of Mindanao to ensure that school-age children are able to resume their education in January.
Approximately 1.6 million children have been affected by the storm, and many have lost their school books, uniforms and other materials. Schools have been damaged, records destroyed, and the schools left standing are mostly used as evacuation centres.
Upon the government’s request, I went to the municipality of Cateel, Davao Oriental, to assess the extent of the damage and determine the help that is needed.
When I arrived in Cateel, all I saw was mud and debris. But this sight was nothing compared to the story of Melvin Rodilla, school principal of Cateel Central Elementary School.
The schools in Cateel were invariably damaged, particularly Melvin’s school. The school building was totally destroyed, and there was a stench of rotting dead animals.
Melvin recounted that they were ready and fully prepared for the typhoon. The day before landfall, on 3 December, over 200 families were safely evacuated and placed in classrooms.
“I was confident that the families seeking shelter in the school would be absolutely safe,” he said. “The building was recently renovated and I believed that it was sturdy enough.”
Melvin was in his office when the typhoon made first landfall. As the rain poured heavily and strong winds howled outside, his confidence slowly waned.
“My office gave way,” he said. “And I was trapped. I was afraid: what could have happened to the families I sheltered in my school?”
Eventually, he managed to crawl out of the rubble to look for the families who spent the night in the school. Most were able to escape before the school building gave way, but there were still 28 casualties.
Guaranteeing children’s education
Despite the distress he suffered in the typhoon, Melvin’s top priority was to ensure that the children returned to school in the coming semester. Without a school building and teaching materials for teachers and the children, it seems unlikely that classes will resume on time.
“Children would visit the school grounds to ask me when they can return to school,” he said.
Schools are the key to helping children resume their daily routines in order to create a sense of normalcy for them after a disaster like this.
Save the Children is now working round the clock to help set up temporary learning spaces and provide teaching and learning kits so that classes can resume in the semester ahead.