School's Bell Rings Again in Typhoon-Hit Philippines

School resumes in the Central Philippines areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda. But physical and mental scars remain.

Christian Numyo of Tacloban City on Leyte Island in the central Philippines is glad to be back in school after a two-month absence in the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

But he also gets fearful every time the weather turns bad.

“I am very happy to be back, but I want to go home to be with my parents when the rain and wind hits our make-shift classroom.”

Christian, a 9-year old who attends Tagpuro Elementary School, is one of more than a million pupils in storm-devastated areas who returned to class on 6 January 2014. 

His home island was the worst hit by the typhoon which lashed the central Philippines on 8 November 2013, leaving more than 6,000 dead, 12 million affected and $8 billion in damages. It was one of the strongest storms on record in the Philippines.

The devastation has been especially severe in the education sector, with about 6,000 classrooms destroyed and 15,000 partially damaged across 2,905 public elementary, and 470 public secondary schools.

Aid gap remains

Students at Tagpuro Elementary School are better off than many others, with just two classrooms sustaining major damage.

But minor damage to many rooms is still taking a toll on classes and the school has yet to receive assistance from the government and aid organizations.

“Major challenges now include sanitation, getting enough teaching materials, and providing psychological care for traumatized children.”

– Mario Roa, Principal of the Bislig Elementary School

“As we are at the bottom of the list of schools which require repair, we have not received any firm support yet,” said Xenia Bardelas, the school principal.

An international nongovernment organization (NGO) has promised to provide construction materials to repair the rooms, but Ms. Bardelas says she is not sure when the items will be delivered.  She is also finding it difficult to raise even a relatively small amount of about $500 to hire workers to carry out room repairs.

Another school in Tanauan, about  20 kilometers south of Tacloban, has yet to receive any aid despite substantial damage.

“Our school is almost 90% damaged and we have used up our budget to keep the classes going,” said Mario Roa, Principal of the Bislig Elementary School.

Mental scars remain

Mr. Roa also highlighted other issues, including the need to help children cope with psychological trauma.

“Major challenges now include sanitation, getting enough teaching materials, and providing psychological care for traumatized children,” he said.

Currently, Bislig Elementary has to make do with only one toilet located just outside the school for its 475 students, and electricity has yet to be restored.

One Japanese NGO, KnK Japan (Children without Borders), has been helping the school by providing after-class activities for about 200 students including games, singing, art work,tutoring, and counseling.

“Children are tough and look very happy, but they still require specialized mental health care,” said Agnes Gallardo-Quitoriano, Executive Director and President, KnK Philippines.

Vergie Calumag, a teacher at Tagpuro Elementary School, echoes the need to provide the right environment to help the children recover physically and mentally.

“We try not to talk about the typhoon at school because children still remember the terrifying effects.”

Teachers note that some children skip classes when they have any problems at home and when there are shortages of pencils, notebooks and other school supplies.

Rebuilding houses to provide children with a safe home environment and securing jobs for their parents are therefore critical for keeping children in school.

For 9-year old Christian who now lives in a makeshift home of tarpaulins and scrap timber, a solid roof over his head is one of his most urgent wishes. 

“I want to live in a house with proper walls. I am still scared as many people died because of the typhoon.”