By Silje Vik Pedersen
PANGASINAN, Philippines, 4 January 2010 – Puelay Elementary School in Villasis was one of many schools flooded when Typhoon Pepeng (known internationally as Parma), hit the region in October.
“Three of our classrooms were totally destroyed, as well as tables, chairs, blackboards and computers,” said Principal Belen Bautista. “The play area was covered in mud and both the children’s and the teachers’ books were damaged.”
With help from parents, students and the community, the school was able to reopen.
Children lined up in the courtyard, ready to receive their backpacks containing the notebooks, pens, crayons, glue, slippers, a drinking bottle and scissors that UNICEF handed out to all 1,145 students.
Tricia Mae, age eight, is in third grade and her house is located right next to the school.
“We were awake when the water came. My aunt said we should go to the church, but I don’t remember how we got there. When we came back to the house the next day all my clothes were gone and my school books were wet and muddy. I also lost my shoes,” she said as she eagerly opened her new school bag. “I am happy that I am back at school and that I have new notebooks and pens.”
‘Everyone has returned’
“Everything in the school was damaged. It took us over a week to clean the school, but now the classrooms are full of students again and everyone has returned,” said teacher Gloria Orena.
UNICEF has distributed school packs to 23 schools in the affected areas of the country, enough supplies for 30,659 school children. However, there are still many more schools in need of help. Two of these are situated on the other side of the Agno River, in Rosales.
Carmen Elementary School and Robert Estrella National High School were both affected by flooding. There is still mud in the courtyards and along the pathways, and several of the classrooms have lost their walls. Damaged books lie outside, their titles barely readable.
More help needed
The central office for the Department of Education has made Carmen Elementary School their first priority for repairs, but more assistance is needed.
“We lack food and school supplies for the children and the teachers,” said Principal Arturo de la Cruz. “We also have a problem with children dropping out of school because they have lost their books.”
Many of the students come from Carmen East and Carmen West, two of the worst affected regions. Several hundred families lost their homes and many are living with relatives or are in tents at a relocation site in nearby San Pedro. Some of these children, lacking books or money for transport, are finding it hard to return to school.
‘I haven’t been able to go’
Marjon, 14, is living with his family in a tent in San Pedro.
“I have only been to school once since we were evacuated here. When we lived in Carmen I went to school every day and it makes me sad that I haven’t been able to go,” he said.
Returning children to school as quickly as possible is the best to restore a sense of normalcy in children’s lives.
Marjon and his friends are hoping to return to school in the near future. “I just want to finish school so I can find a job to support my family,” he says.