"When Can I go Back to School?" -- Losing Everything at Once
|Four-year-old Saif is excited to see his school, Early Learn Neptune a Family Head Start/ Early Learn School in Brooklyn, New York after an IKEA-sponsored makeover. The school was flooded and temporarily closed following Hurricane Sandy. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
When neighbors started screaming, Saif, 4, was asleep in his first-floor Brooklyn apartment. In a matter of minutes, his bed, his apartment, his preschool – every bit of his daily routine was swept up in the rushing floodwaters.
Saif's mom, Rizwana, awakened her two boys and rushed them upstairs. There, they huddled with neighbors and waited for the heavy rains to stop. Saif, usually full of questions, became silent, but Rizwana, could see the fear in his expression.
"It's not easy to see your kids in that condition," she says.
When the questions started again, Saif wanted to know when they could go home again. Every day he asked when he could go back to school. Many of his classmates from the Neptune Avenue Head Start program in Brighton Beach were in a similar situation, and it would take families months to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Sandy's devastating landfall on Oct. 29, 2012. Blocks away from the beach, nobody had imagined the ocean could travel that far, that fast.
"They weren't prepared at all. It's a poor community, and a lot of the children live in basement apartments," says Lori Conway, one of the Neptune Head Start teachers. "They lost everything. I mean, it was just devastating. What you saw in the street? Their whole lives were in the street and garbage bags."
A Haven for Children, Also Gone
|Saif and his mother, Riwana sit in front of their Brooklyn home. Their first floor apartment was flooded during Superstorm Sandy. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
The Head Start center's lower-level classroom was also wiped out. The building's electricity, boiler, and kitchen all took time to restore. But even as the center staff held clothing drives, helped families get enough to eat, and struggled to find mattresses for them to sleep on, they knew getting the center open again was also very important for the children.
"They saw so much destruction around them and it was frightening for them. They couldn't play, they couldn't laugh with their friends," says Maisie Chi-Bernstein, the center's educational director.
"It was also stressful for the parents, trying to put their lives together, get back to work, and having the kids home with them. They really needed the child care and to be able to provide routine for their kids again."
|Children check out new play furniture at the Neptune Head Start after Save the Children and IKEA helped restore and reopen the center's flooded basement classroom." Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
Since Hurricane Sandy, Save the Children has assessed damage in hundreds of child care centers in New York and New Jersey. Many centers are still struggling to restore services to previous standards, so Save the Children is helping replace equipment and materials that allow children to continue their development.
Most child care centers have traditionally been unable to access emergency recovery funding after disasters. Neptune Head Start was able to secure some federal support, but 10 months after Sandy, many child care centers are still struggling – which means greater struggles for children.
Finding Normal Again
For a long time after the storm another Neptune Head Start student, Rachel, 3, would panic when it rained. "Is the water coming? Is it coming inside again?" she'd ask her mom, Maria.
The family slept on someone else's floor for two months, and Rachel refused to drink the bedtime milk she used to love. Her prized Dora the Explorer cup had washed away in the storm.
When at last the Head Start opened again, Maria overheard her daughter tell her little friends how the water had come and taken away all her toys. Since then, Rachel has had an easier time readjusting.
"She's happy now. She has her friends. She loves her teacher…. Little by little she forgets," says Maria, who is trying to do the same as she slowly replaces what the family lost. "It's hard to recover from something like that. I keep praying."