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'School in a box' alternative classrooms help kids in Tonga resume studies after Cyclone Gita

By Bindi Bryce, Thursday March 1, 2018 - 18:21 EDT
ABC licensed image
The tent in the background is part of UNICEF's "school in a box", which also contains books, pencils, and even a wind-up solar radio. - ABC licensed

The people of Tonga are still rebuilding their lives after , but disaster authorities say they are relieved that they have managed to get almost all the local kids back to school within a couple of weeks.

When roughly a fortnight ago, , , and brought the school term to a halt for about 25,000 children who had their classrooms damaged or destroyed.

Not only have many classrooms been devastated, but lots of equipment, books, and other supplies have been lost.

Kathryn Topou, principal of the ACTS community school in the capital Nuku'Alofa, said Cyclone Gita has been a huge setback for her students' education.

"We're just trying to get alternative classrooms, because four of our classrooms are completely devastated," she said.

"We're looking at classrooms in tents and things like that."

Tonga's education authorities determined

It is estimated that 70 per cent of the population on the main island Tongatapu have been affected by Gita and impact of the cyclone on young people has been a big concern for authorities.

The clean-up effort is still in its early stages, but Isikeli Oko, the deputy chief executive officer at the Ministry of Education, said getting everyone back to school was a priority from the start.

"The whole community is working towards cleaning up all the schools," he said.

"We've encouraged them that we are stronger than Gita … and we can move forward."

Bringing back 'a sense of normalcy'

With many classrooms still out of action, the children's agency UNICEF has helped to set up temporary learning spaces so the Tongan children can refocus on their studies.

UNICEF Pacific's communications officer Cate Heinrich said getting kids back into their normal school routine as quickly as possible can help counter the emotional impacts after a major disaster.

"It's really important that children get an opportunity to bring back a sense of normalcy to their lives," Ms Heinrich said.

"So things like the temporary learning centres will help get the school-aged children back into the classroom."

Ms Heinrich said many teachers have also been supplied with what is being called a school in a box, which contains the essential materials needed to set up a classroom for 40 students.

"The teacher will be able to open this box, he or she will have a blackboard to write on, there will be pencils, pens, everything you would expect in a normal classroom; and that will allow the lessons to continue," she said.

It could be many months before Tonga's schools get back on their feet, but for ACTS principal Kathryn Topou, the help is already going a long way.

"We're just appreciative of the worldwide community, we're just so blessed to be able to know that we're not alone in this world," she said.


© ABC 2018

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