02 March 2016

School’s out: Cyclone Winston impacts education

Adi Dokoni, kindergarten teacher from Navitilevu village, with her daughters
 © UNICEF Pacific/2016/Sokhin
By Cifora Monier

Adi Dokoni, a 42 year old mother of three and a kindergarten teacher in Navitilevu village, Fiji, tells her children to be careful while they run around the debris left behind by Cyclone Winston. “Everything is damaged; our house and our crops,” she says watching her children move away from the sharp corrugated metal that lays on the ground broken and twisted by the storm.

“There is no school for the time being and we still have to rebuild our houses,” says Adi. “We don’t know how long it will take us. We don’t have money because the food we’d usually sell from our crops has been destroyed. That was our only way of getting money.”

Fiji’s Ministry of Education has reported that at least 240 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Many schools are also being used as temporary evacuation centres, sheltering families who have lost their homes. This means many of 120,000 are being left without an education.

For many of the villagers in Navitilevu, the school that night became their last refuge. For them, it is difficult to imagine a more distressing night than when Cyclone Winston flattened everything before it.

“The winds started around 3pm,” says Adi as she looks at the wreckage around her. “Most of us who live in bamboo houses decided to hide in stronger houses with neighbours. But the wind was getting stronger and stronger. At this point we thought it was better to go to our school where I teach.”

Walking in the dark through torrential rains and storm winds, the villagers arrived to see the school half destroyed. “When we got to the school it was horrible, three out of our five classrooms were no longer there, they had blown away,” says Adi. “We were about sixty plus people in the two rooms.”

85-year-old Siteri, the oldest person in the village holding Salomi, the youngest
© UNICEF Pacific/2016/Sokhin
At this point Adi’s voice breaks. It’s an ordeal that has clearly left a scar on her and her community. While the cyclone was being felt by everyone that night sheltering in the classrooms – from the 3 week old baby to an 85 year old great grandmother – the physical and mental scars will be felt for a long time to come.

UNICEF has already supplied 60 temporary classrooms to most-affected schools – and many more are on the way. Each UNICEF temporary classroom kit includes a large tent and educational supplies sufficient for 40 students and teachers.

They allow children and teachers to quickly return to school, to routine and a sense of normality in even the toughest of times. Temporary classrooms also help to keep children safe during the day, when parents and caregivers are focusing on recovery efforts and livelihoods.

In addition to supporting affected children to return to school, UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Fiji and development partners to ensure that affected children and their families have access to clean, safe drinking water, sanitation, health and protection.

“Our wish is for the government and aid agencies to help us rebuild,” says Adi. “But most important is for our kids to start school as soon as possible. We also need school supplies as ours have now been damaged and destroyed.”

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