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Parents and Teachers Race to Clear Ash from Schools Wrecked by Tonga Volcano

Save the Children says return to school on January 31st will help children recover from the trauma

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Jan. 25, 2022) — Every single school across Tonga has been impacted by the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami over a week ago, says Save the Children staff.

The severe damage to some schools and complete destruction of others threatens to delay the return to school for thousands of Tongan children on Monday, January 31 as planned.

On the main islands of Tongatapu, Eua and Ha’apai, communities have rallied to clear the 3 inches of sand and volcanic dust blanketing homes, roads and schools. The efforts are being led by parents and teachers, who are anxious to ensure schools are safe and functional for children before the return of the academic year. 

Curriculum materials including text books and notepads have been damaged beyond use, along with class furniture. At one school, classroom buildings have been severely damaged from the waves carrying rocks from the sea and roadside.

Utilizing existing program staff in Tonga, Save the Children is working to ensure children, parents and teachers are supported as they prepare a return to learning next week.

Tonga Country Lead for Save the Children, Maa'imoa Mafile'o, said:

“So it is very important for our kids to be back at school to cope, not only to cover the syllabus, but also to talk with others about how they have survived in the face of the tsunami.

“We are providing school materials to the students most affected by the tsunami, especially the ones who were on the islands closest to the volcano.

“There are some classrooms that have been destroyed wholesale by the tsunami, especially those by the sea. We expect to see more children in the one classroom, sharing the same materials.

“Water supplies for every school is a problem. Children need drinking water to be able to go to school.

“For families forced to relocate from one island to another, it will take time for the kids to settle in. They will be struggling to get back to school, even to have school materials for the children and school uniforms.

“I had a chance to go to a village nearby that was completely destroyed by the tsunami. I saw that people are suffering psychologically and emotionally, and they are facing many challenges.

“Some of the people lost their houses, and also their crops. For those parents who have lost their main source of income it’s hard to see their kids going back to school on Monday.”

Save the Children is shipping critical supplies to Tonga to support the race to get schools ready for the start of term next week. This includes classroom kits, chalkboards, schools bags, and school recreation kits, as well as large tents to be used as temporary classrooms. 

To mitigate the COVID risk, Save the Children will utilize existing staff in-country and leverage significant regional expertise in education and emergency cash assistance to support children and families in Tonga.

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