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Back to school for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

World Vision
4 February 2014 by Joy Toose
Back to school for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

Principal Evelyn Matugas flicks through one of the hundreds of textbooks ruined during Typhoon Haiyan.

Evelyn Matugas has a big job ahead of her. Three weeks after Haiyan hit she was appointed principal of the primary school where she has taught for 15 years. The school, catering for almost 890 students, lost over half of its classrooms in the typhoon. The day of my visit that stood – some roofless, some collapsed – in stark contrast to the intact buildings which are colourfully painted and immaculately looked after.

As I entered broken classrooms, it was clear that the damage extended  beyond the structures. Hundreds of swollen textbooks and exercise books sat on shelves and desks, pages stuck together, ink running, useless.

In her first few weeks as principal, Evelyn did her best to keep the school running. She shortened timetables and adjusted classes so that grades were able to share the undamaged buildings. Roofless classrooms could be used for only short periods, before children and teachers would be forced to take a break from the heat. With most school materials water-damaged, teachers shared limited resources.

I think these challenges would be enough for any new principal to contend with, but Evelyn also worries about the home-life of her students and teachers. She told me that many houses in the area were destroyed, leaving families homeless. Some stayed with family and friends while trying to rebuild and others slept in basic structures made from tarpaulins and bamboo or crowded evacuation centres. Some families have evacuated altogether, leaving the island of Leyte and heading to Manila or Cebu. Evelyn isn’t sure whether the students from these families will ever return to her school.

Evelyn attributes an overall increase in absences to the storm. In the weeks following Typhoon Haiyan older children were often kept at home to help busy parents with chores, from finding timber for rebuilding to caring for younger siblings. In the lower grades attendance was more stable, with parents grateful for the opportunity to attend relief distributions and run other errands while their children are at school. However the behaviour of younger children is shaped by lingering memories of the storm. Children who were previously confident and happy attending school now cry when their parents drop them at classrooms. Evelyn says that rainy days are the worst, when despite reassurances from parents and staff, younger children fear that the rain will develop into floods.

Despite ongoing challenges, staff at this primary school recognise how important it is for children to get back to school. “We don’t want their education to be disrupted” says Evelyn, “it [school] also helps them feel normal.” And the parents agree. They have rallied to support Evelyn and her staff volunteering on weekends to clear the debris left by the storm. Government officials have come to assess the damage and have committed to repairing the school, but with significant damage to most schools in the area Evelyn is not sure when this work will happen. In the meantime it’s up to her, with staff, parents and students to make the best of their situation.

Students fly their paper aeroplanes at the launch of World Vision’s child friendly space.

Students fly their paper aeroplanes at the launch of World Vision’s child friendly space.

World Vision has helped bring some fun and hope to the recovery efforts by opening a child friendly space at the school. World Vision uses child friendly spaces in emergencies to provide children with a safe space where they can play together, relax and take a break from the stresses they and their families face. In the aftermath of Haiyan, with severe damage to many schools, World Vision is working closely with principals to usechild friendly spaces to help kids get back to school. This means meeting with community leaders to gain support, recruiting and training volunteers and providing equipment like writing materials, sports equipment and musical instruments. The spaces provide relief for overstretched classrooms and teachers, and most importantly help make school a joyful experience for students again.

The launch of the child friendly space at Evelyn’s school is energetic. High school students have joined the primary school children on the oval in front of the World Vision team. Led from the front the children make paper aeroplanes, write on them their wishes for the future and launch them into the sky.

After this activity the blue World Vision chests are opened to cheers and children collect vollyballs, footballs, building blocks and craft materials. That afternoon the school grounds are filled with children and teachers playing and laughing together.

Evelyn is thankful for World Vision’s support, as well as the staff and parents so committed to helping children get back to school. Appointed as principal of a school where classrooms are destroyed and many of her students and staff remain homeless, Evelyn’s first job is to rebuild the school. Rebuilding the physical structures is likely to take some time, but Evelyn has already made enormous progress in bringing the community together and strengthening their resolve to work to continue their children’s education.

Thanks to your donations to our Typhoon Haiyan appeal, World Vision has been able to assist over 560,000 survivors with basics like food, shelter and hygiene items.  As our response shifts into the recovery phase we’ll be working to help family’s rebuild their homes, and regain access to water, healthcare, education and jobs.

Joy Toose

Joy Toose for World VIsion's emergency communications team. Last year, after Typhoon Haiyan, Joy worked in the Philippines assisting with World Vision's response.


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