Communities are being rebuilt at school: Ministry of Education of Chile and UNESCO give account of actions implemented after the Atacama floods

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
  • Copiapó, Chañaral, Diego de Almagro, Tierra Amarilla, and Alto del Carmen are cities and towns from the Atacama Region (in the north of Chile) where the Pedagogical and Psychosocial Plan entitled “Atacama ¡volvió a clases!” (“Atacama is back in school!”) was implemented. These actions contributed to calming the minds and emotions of the educational communities most affected by the floods in March 2015 caused by heavy rains in the middle of the desert.

22.11.2016 -The Ministry of Education of Chile recently published a document and a video that highlights the work done to help rebuild individual lives and the community in the north of Chile, with support from UNESCO. The “Atacama ¡Volvió a Clases!” (“Atacama is back in school!”) Plan emerged after the disaster and aided the process of getting children back to school and to restore normal education conditions that safeguard the safety and care of children, youth and adults in educational establishments affected the floods, which is the greatest disaster this region has had to face.

The material gathers information on what has been done by students, teaching staff, principals, and local authorities and communities. Records confirm that despite the loss and pain, the majority of people in disaster situations use their own resources, as well as those made available to them by the State and other institutions, to confront this disruptive situation of vulnerability

It is not easy to return to school and restore normal conditions that safeguard the safety and care of children in the affected educational establishments. Despite how difficult it is to get through these events, this experience provided a tremendous opportunity for strengthening the link between schools and the residents of local communities, students and their families, enabling the community to overcome the trauma together.

The “Atacama ¡volvió a clases!” (“Atacama is back at school!”) plan involved workshops and complementary activities in schools in the Atacama Region. The program combined the focus on psychosocial rebuilding in schools that the Ministry of Education of Chile has been doing now for some time, integrating UNESCO’s approach of lifelong learning approach.

The plan comprised an initial containment response for the teaching and managing teams to foster a space for reconstructing experiences, as well as reinforcing and orienting team duties to face new educational challenges in a disaster setting. After this, three areas pertaining to school activities were defined: pedagogical action, school management, and educational regulations. The goal of this was to develop complementary teaching tools with an emphasis on artistic, literary, and cultural areas, as well as to make necessary adjustments to restore normalcy in terms of administrative and curricular aspects within a disaster setting.

Some of the activities conducted were rebuilding memories, workshops for teachers and parents, psychosocial support, school radios, a mural painting workshop, a regional citizenship and youth leadership school, Sport Olympics, a storytelling workshop, and a literary contest.

According to the Head of the General Education Division in the Ministry of Education, Juan Eduardo García Huidobro, “one of the most positive features of the plan “Atacama ¡Volvió a Clases!” is that it was created by teams from the Ministry of Education at a central level, and at the regional and provincial levels by members of the individual educational communities of the region, and that this was done with support from UNESCO and other NGOs. This joint development spurred considerable interest from establishments from the different municipalities that participated, and it contributed to rebuilding communities socially and emotionally, also allowing students to return to classes in a short time frame. This model, which we consider to be successful, will help us to address similar situations that may arise in the future, and this experience can be shared with other countries that, like Chile, face these types of circumstances regularly.”

For Jorge Sequeira, Director of the Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago), “what happened on March 25, 2015 represented a great challenge in that direction. This challenge was not only to rebuild the infrastructure damaged by the disaster, but also to rebuild hope, networks, and connections, and doing this with the people who breathe life into the educational systems: their stakeholders. Teachers, principals, educational workers, students, social leaders and parents; all of these people were ready to lift up the schools, bolster learning, and help the educational community get back on its feet.”

Henry Renna from OREALC/UNESCO Santiago participated in this working plan and affirms that “in post-disaster situations we witness a paradox. Even though it seems to us that the infrastructure is more fragile and the school conditions more precarious, the power of education to transform lives is greater than ever, especially for teachers. Physical facilities are seriously damaged but their social standing is even greater, and values, attitudes, and skills that may develop become part of recovering the future of an entire town.”

From this perspective, different social and community stakeholders in Atacama continue working to create meaningful and important education for citizens. This circle of collective outreach, collaboration and growth not only strengthens physical reconstruction; it also builds up other activities such as the recovery of community history and disaster preparation.

Teachers have become key examples in this process of emotional support, by being valued and recognized as approachable and important figures play and enduring role in education relations hips and spaces for developing competencies pertaining to prevention and the self-care of their students.


Public information & digital contents:
Carolina Jerez,
Tel. (56-2) 24724607

Public information & publications:
Andrés Pascoe,
Tel. (56-2) 24724606