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Philippines: Children shouldn’t have to choose between shelter and schooling

Over three million people were affected by the floods in in Metro Manila and its surrounding areas. Of those, more than 200,000 were housed in 770 evacuation centres, most of them schools.

With nowhere available for lessons, classes were cancelled for over two weeks. “Just like most of our neighbours, we sought shelter here in the school where my 8-year-old brother Bryan and I study because the floodwater inside our house is already up to my neck (approximately 4 feet),”  said 10-year-old Michael. His family are staying in Bebe Anac Elementary School, an evacuation centre which caters to around 200 flood-affected families in Pampanga, Philippines.

 

Sleeping in schools

“The place is cramped and humid and there are a lot of mosquitoes, especially during the night,” says Michael. “We shared the small classroom space with around 10 to 17 families, and it is hard to live under such conditions.”
And things could get even grimmer for Michael and his family. Officials have declared that classes must resume on 2 September, which meant that all evacuees had to vacate the premises. “I am not sure [where we’ll go]. Maybe we’ll move in with one of our relatives,” says Michael.
Schools are frequently used as evacuation centres in emergencies but most are not equipped for the task. They don’t have enough latrines, private bathing areas for girls or private sleeping areas. As a result, families are cramped into small living spaces and many children are obliged to defecate in public.

A choice between a roof and an education is no choice at all

“Families are doing all they can to survive in a disaster like this, and schools are a natural choice for a safe refuge,” says Anna Lindenfors, country director for Save the Children in the Philippines. “But children shouldn’t have to choose between a roof over their heads and a school to attend. They have a right to both.
“We know that the longer children stay out of school, the more likely it is that they will drop out. So schools should be the last choice of evacuation site, in order to avoid unnecessary delays in the resumption of classes.”

For severely affected children like Michael, returning to class could prove to be both exciting and distressing. “I’ve been looking forward to classes since last week but I am not sure if my brother and I are ready for it. Our school bags were both soaked in the flood and all our books and notebooks were destroyed,” he says.

Save the Children is doing what it can to make sure Michael and those like him are ready to go back to school. To date, we have reached nearly 4000 people, including 1,600 children, with immediate relief such as sleeping mats, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking pots and essential hygiene items like soaps, toothbrushes and towels, but we also plan to distribute school materials and refurbish schools, because for children, education is an essential item, too.

By Heidi Anicete, communications officer for Save the Children in the Philippines

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