Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bringing water back to typhoon damaged schools

Young students support the WASH in Schools program
© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Regina Gallego
"How can I help my country when I can't even attend school because its facilities are broken down?" reasons Celina, a tenth-grader at the Ramon Arnaldo High School here, when asked why she thinks it is important to mobilize help for schools.

Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) blew away roofs, walls, windows, water pipes, toilets, and much more. It was saddening. "Some of our students cried when they saw what Yolanda did to their school," says Nenita Villa, principal of the Catalino Andrada Memorial School in Ivisa, Capiz. What the typhoon couldn't take away, though, was the students' strong resolve to keep on learning.

Since March, UNICEF has been working closely with the country's Department of Education (DepEd) to help schools recover from the damage wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda. The agency and the Department have a continuing collaboration but never has this been more intense than in last week's National School Maintenance Week, better known as Brigada Eskwela, an annual campaign to help public elementary and high schools prepare for the opening of a new school year.

Brigada Eskwela and UNICEF

Brigada Eskwela literally translates to "school brigade". On this occasion, schools, students and their parents, community volunteers and civic groups join hands for one week to freshen up schools in time for the opening of classes in June. This year's Brigada Eskwela was especially significant in the country's Visayas Region as almost everyone, from public officials and private donors, pitched in to help erase the traces of Typhoon Yolanda and give the children a fresh and healthy start at the new academic year.

Through its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools programme, UNICEF supported DepEd in restoring and improving facilities in schools in Western and Eastern Visayas which were worst-hit by the super typhoon. Through their efforts, 599 schools in five affected school divisions have been prepared to provide improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for more than 240,000 students. Giving the students proper hygiene education will also be part of the initiative.

"Most of our students come from low-income families," says Joseph Lopez, Principal of the Ramon Arnaldo High School. "Having proper water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools means a lot especially to poor communities. Proper sanitation habits that the children learn in school are carried on to their homes and communities." School dentist Dr. Leila Ajera also believes that "this will have a significant impact in reducing diseases and improving children's health and learning conditions." 

UNICEF's Sam hands hygiene kits to the Division Superintendent, Roxas City
© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Regina Gallego
WASH before and after Yolanda

If, before Yolanda, one toilet was available to 55 elementary school children and 1:93 in high school, this ratio has shot up to one toilet to as many as 233 students in some of the worst-hit schools, according to official estimates, due to destroyed school facilities. This situation is indeed far from global standards (1:50 for males if urinals are present, and 1:25 for females set by the World Health Organization and UNICEF) and from those set by the Philippine Sanitation Code (1:50 for boys and 1:30 for girls). The condition is further compounded in areas where some toilets are no longer in use due to unsanitary conditions resulting from lack of maintenance, or due to lack of flushing water.

New modality of collaboration

What makes Brigada Eskwela doubly special for the UNICEF WASH programme this year is not only the scale of its support (in typhoon-ravaged communities), but also the modality of working with the poorest and most isolated schools through the DepEd's school-based management approach. With this approach, DepEd gives schools the opportunity and responsibility to identify their needs, leverage funds, and mobilize workforce and donations from volunteers to implement projects. 

According to Jon Michael VillaseƱor, UNICEF Philippines WASH Officer: "This approach moves down the responsibility and accountability to the lowest level, enhancing ownership, improving efficiency, and ultimately increasing sustainability of results." Schools prioritized for this approach are the most vulnerable ones, such as Camp Jamindan Elementary School in Jamindan, Capiz, where up to 60 per cent of students come from very poor barangays (villages), where many children need to walk for more than two hours to and from school, and where dropout rates are very high.

More help needed

For tenth-grader Celina, who is also student council president, much support is still needed to help schools recover from Yolanda's destruction.  Her school's Student Council, she says, is ready to do its share in maintaining the new water and sanitation installations, and in promoting and applying proper hygiene habits among their students. She, however, appeals for further donations: "By helping us, you are helping our families and the future of our country."

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Leila Ajera also believes that "this will have a significant impact in reducing diseases and improving children's health and learning conditions." water removal

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