Getting children back to school after Typhoon Haiyan

Publié: 4 février 2014 15:45 CET

By Kate Marshall, IFRC

When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Visayas region of central Philippines, the Red Cross Society of China was quick to reach out to affected communities.

In its first major overseas deployment, the society sent specialist search and rescue teams to the stricken city of Tacloban to help in body retrieval together with emergency medical teams who treated almost 5,000 patients within 30 days. They also played a role in debris removal and carried out decontamination and disease control around the city.

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In pictures

Red Cross Society of China building classes in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan 


The typhoon damaged more than 3,200 schools across the region, leaving teachers and students with no supplies and no classrooms from which to work. In an effort to get students back into education, the Red Cross Society of China agreed to partner with the Philippine Red Cross in building temporary classrooms for more than 8,500 students across Leyte province.   

At the instigation of vice-president Dr. Zhao Baige, a vessel was loaded with enough building material to fill 40 containers and sent straight to Tacloban.

Wang Ping, director of society’s relief and health department, was tasked with the job of overseeing the initial construction phase of 166 temporary classrooms in 20 schools. The aims was to complete them in time for the new school year that started in January.

"Originally, we had thought to build temporary shelters for homeless people, but it became obvious that the type of prefabricated structures we had were better suited to classrooms rather than housing," said Mr Wang.

By the third week of January – interrupted by frequent heavy downpours that hampered construction – the team of 35 Chinese engineers and volunteer construction workers from Philippine Red Cross were putting the finishing touches to the last of the classrooms. Chinese engineers trained the volunteers – some of them school students – to assemble the classrooms, which typically take three days to erect.

“Classrooms had to be sited close to the existing school but we had to take into account risk mitigation,” says Mr Wang. “This meant we could not build on low-lying land prone to flooding. Even though they are temporary, the classrooms will need to last for at least five years. I’m confident they could last for 10 if necessary.”

At Palo National High School, Doris Salazar has been teaching her maths class out of a temporary classroom made out of timber and flimsy plywood. The original school was partially destroyed during the storm; every roof was torn off.

“When it rains the students have to wear rubber boots to class because of the mud and I have to use my umbrella when I write at the blackboard,” she says. “Students were keen to return to school as it takes their minds off what they have experienced during the typhoon. But it’s been a real struggle. We have had to combine classes and run lessons on alternate days as we don’t have enough classrooms.”

Maryjoy Mina, 16, is really looking forward to moving into one of the new classrooms built by the Red Cross and lessons getting back to normal. She is one of many senior students who work weekends to help her family pay for food and other household supplies for rebuilding the family home,

Maryjoy says that she and her friends are looking forward to graduating this year. “We’re glad about the new classrooms because they’re more comfortable,” she says. “It can get very hot here in the open air classrooms and they leak when it rains. We also lost our supplies. Now, if someone has a notebook, we tear off pages so that everyone can have paper.”

For the Red Cross Society of China, the next phase of the project will be to equip the classrooms with badly needed furniture and supplies.