Vanuatu children want to get back to school after cyclone devastation

Her island home has been devastated by a tropical cyclone. Her house has gone – destroyed by winds of up to 150 miles per hour.

But all 10-year-old Joana Bani wants to do is get back to school in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. The Category 5 storm, called Cyclone Pam, swept through the islands on March 13, leaving 75,000 people homeless and destroying more than 90% of crops. Most of Vanuatu’s infrastructure, including schools, has been obliterated but amazingly only 11 people died.

Joana told UNICEF Pacific Island Countries: “I can’t go back to our school yet because the cyclone badly damaged it. The rain came inside my school and made all our books and everything wet. My teacher said that maybe we can go back after two or three weeks. I want to go back to school soon because I miss my friends a lot.”

Joana is now living in a tin shed on the site of her former home in a poor community in the capital Port Vila. Her father Edward, a labourer, said: “There was nothing left. Our crops had gone and there was no power on – even now it’s still not on.” 

Food is scarce and expensive but he is determined that Joana will continue her education as soon as her damaged school is reopened.

Mr Bani said: “I don’t know where we will find the money but it’s my duty as a father to educate her. Education is her future.”

Of the 400 schools affected by the cyclone in Vanuatu, about 250 were damaged according to an assessment by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF. Some schools are beginning to reopen but others will have to wait several weeks and many children may be unable to retun to classes because their families have been displaced.

A teacher at one of Vanuatu’s damaged schools Picture: OCHA

Catherine Warsal, Deputy Principal of St Joseph’s Primary School on Efate Island, said just 170 of her 330 students had returned to school for their first day back. She added: “I am worried about those who haven’t returned, it’s likely that their family homes have been destroyed and they are unable to return. The children like school and love coming so we hope they will return soon.”

UNICEF and partners are supporting the Vanuatu government by assisting 30,000 school-age children affected by the cyclone. Tents are being used as temporary classrooms and school kits are being supplied so that teachers and students can resume classes.

UNICEF Pacific Representative Dr Karen Allen said: “It is critically important for children to return to school, even if it is a temporary location or facility, immediately after an emergency because schools keep children safe from harm, minimum disruption to learning enables them to progress as expected to exams, and the school day gives them a sense of normalcy and stability that helps them to psychologically recover.”