Red Cross works with vulnerable communities to develop protected schools

Published: 9 October 2006 0:00 CET

Noemí Coto, Costa Rican Red Cross

In the community of Desamparados, the most densely populated and vulnerable part of San José, the capital of Costa Rica, teachers and parents have worked together to make Edwin Porras Ulloa School a safer place for children.

Some 268 pre-school and primary school children are students at the school, which has been designated a high-priority learning establishment.

With support from Costa Rican Red Cross volunteers, the teachers and parents have analysed the emergencies to which the school is vulnerable, drawn up an emergency plan, identified existing capacities and resources, and proposed ways to address the vulnerabilities.

“We mapped risks and identified safety zones,” explains Hilda Chacón, one of the teachers trained by the Red Cross. “From this, we developed evacuation, fire prevention and first aid brigades to cope in an emergency.”

This effort forms part of the work undertaken in schools by the Costa Rican Red Cross with the support of the Regional Reference Centre for Community Disaster Education and its protected school training module.

The Centre was established within the Costa Rica Red Cross in early 2004 as part of the International Federation’s strategy to follow up its community prevention projects. Although based in Costa Rica, the Centre also supports work undertaken by national societies in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

“The concept of a protected school aims to reduce the risk in schools by utilising the capacities of the school community,” says José Antonio Bonilla, officer in charge of the Reference Centre.

“Schoolchildren, teachers and parents learn to be aware of their surroundings and identify vulnerabilities and risks with a view to developing and implementing alternative solutions.”

The protected school is one of the educational modules developed by the Centre with input from specialists from Central America. Each national society in the region is involved in designing course materials.

Topics include basic first aid, psychological first aid, the well-prepared family, floods and education and disaster preparedness.

“The most disaster-prone groups in Latin America are the poorest communities and people,” says José Bonilla. “This applies both in rural areas, where basic services are often unavailable, and in the new urban communities, which are often located in illegal settlements that lack minimum services and the necessary infrastructure.

“Disasters can hit these communities hardest so they are a priority target for Red Cross community education programmes.”