IN THE REMOTE VILLAGES OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA, UNICEF BRINGS MUCH-NEEDED RELIEF TO CHILDREN LIVING IN FEAR AFTER A MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE LEVELED HOMES AND DISPLACED FAMILIES THROUGH EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT FUNDED FIRST EMERGENCY RESPONSE
‘Shortage of food and fear were the main things that affected children. When we started school, we could see that children had lost weight. We didn’t have enough food to eat but we’re slowing building back.’
Stories from the Field
Special Contribution by UNICEF Papua New Guinea
In February 2018, a devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake ripped through Mongulu village, Mt. Bosavi, in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands. It was the first time 8-year-old Meggy Tom had ever experienced an earthquake and it was a terrifying ordeal. The shaking and rumbling continued for weeks afterwards. “We could hear it coming and would run away and hide in our houses,” says Meggy.
The earthquake devastated the small, remote community. Mr. Sasobe Hay is the Head Teacher of Mongulu Primary and Elementary School where Meggy studies.
“Almost half of the school stayed away after the earthquake, just three weeks into the school year. Some students said they didn’t have any food as their parents were traumatized and too scared to go to the kitchen gardens. Creeks and rivers were dirty and muddy, and we couldn’t fetch water to drink and wash,” says Hay.
Precious kitchen gardens were trampled by pigs and wild animals, because the earthquake had destroyed the fences protecting them.
“Shortage of food and fear were the main things that affected children,” Hay says. “We couldn’t harvest any food. And with people scared to plant new gardens, people were getting hungry. When we started school, we could see that children had lost weight. We didn’t have enough food to eat but we’re slowing building back.”
A COORDINATED RESPONSE
A year on, Meggy and her classmates in Elementary 1 giggle excitedly as they open their new school backpacks provided by UNICEF through an Education Cannot Wait-financed first emergency response. They are filled with supplies such as pencils and exercise books, resources that many have never had before – stationery is hard to come by in Mongulu, which has no shops, and some children have never even been outside the area.
Getting the backpacks to Mongulu so that the children could resume learning was a logistical challenge. There is still no road access to the whole of the Bosavi area, and Tari, the nearest town, is a three- or four-day walk through the forest. Through the Education Cannot Wait investment, UNICEF worked closely with the Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea, Hela Provincial Division of Education and missionaries based in Mongulu, and a plane was chartered for the 20-minute flight to deliver supplies from Tari to Mongulu. By the end of March 2019, Education in Emergency kits containing essentials such blackboard paint and chalk, as well as 523 students kits and 15 teachers kits had been delivered to Mongulu Elementary and Primary Schools alone.
The investment is having lasting results for the girls and boys impacted by the earthquake. With Education Cannot Wait support, UNICEF delivered a total of 1,126 students kits, 43 teachers kits, Education in Emergency kits and tents to three schools in the remote Mt. Bosavi area. UNICEF also provided training on Education in Emergencies, attended by hundreds of teachers, including Meggy’s Head Teacher, Sasobe Hay.
Meggy and her classmates are excited about going back to school. Through the coordinated response, they have a chance to begin learning again and establish a degree of normality in their young lives.
Education Cannot Wait’s ‘Stories from the Field’ series features the voices of our implementing partners, children, youth and the communities we support. These stories have only been lightly edited to reflect the authentic voice of these frontlines partners on the ground. The views expressed in the Stories from the Field series do not necessarily reflect those of Education Cannot Wait, our Secretariat, donors or UN Member States.