After devastating cyclones, Madagascar rebuilds its shattered schools

By Victor Chinyama

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, 23 April 2007 - Florine, 8, was unaware of the extent of cyclone damage to her village in Ambanja, northeastern Madagascar, until she climbed to the roof of her partially destroyed house.

From that vantage point she surveyed the damage, gasping in shock at the scale of devastation. "I saw houses submerged in water, including trees."

She was greatly distressed to see that her school had not been spared. Only uprooted trees and a sodden floor lay where it once proudly stood. Florine wondered whether she would ever attend school again.

Back-to-school supplies

Cyclone Indlala, the worst storm to hit this Indian Ocean island nation in recent years, arrived on 15 March packing wind speeds of up to 220 km per hour and leaving death and destruction in its wake. With scarcely any time to recover, Madagascar was hit by Cyclone Jaya on 3 April, capping a torrid four-month period in which the country's eastern and northern seaboards had been inundated by no fewer than two cyclones and four tropical storms.

The Ministry of Education estimates that 591 schools have been partially destroyed and 136 completely destroyed since 24 December, when the first tropical storm struck. An estimated 145,000 pupils have been unable to attend school.

UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Bruno Maes said the resumption of classes after the mid-term break this month was an opportunity to ensure that at least 54,000 children could return to school in the affected areas. "We are also distributing tarpaulins, tents, school supplies and School-in-a-Box kits in the north in Diana, Sofia and Maroantsetra, which are some of the hardest hit areas," he added.

In addition, UNICEF is providing 90 aluminium, anti-termite classroom frames and helping the government set them up in hard-hit areas.

Mobilizing scattered pupils

Rebuilding the damaged schools will be a slow and arduous process, but communities have demonstrated their resolve to reclaim what has been lost. Churches and community halls have been turned into classrooms, school benches and tables are being made by local carpenters, and masons are transporting construction materials on their backs - often taking days to reach their destinations.

Efforts have been stepped up as well to mobilize the scattered pupil population. UNICEF has trained 668 teachers in Maroantsetra to help with the mobilization efforts. Their work will be complemented by that of parents, communities and heads of education activity zones.

For Florine, such efforts couldn't come sooner. "I want my school to be rebuilt," she said. "The village also needs to be rehabilitated. I have always wanted to stay in my village and I will not leave. I want to return to school."