We first met 8-year-old Jojo at Melemaat Primary School less than 3 weeks after Category 5 Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu with devastating force. His school was welcoming cyclone-affected children back to school and supporting their emotional recovery. A year later we went back to check in on him.
Port Vila, Vanuatu/ HONG KONG, 13 March 2016 – A year may seem like a long time – but for Jojo, now nine years old, the vivid memories of Cyclone Pam still haunt him. He talks of the corrugated iron roofing flying off his house and of seeing flying timber slice a banana tree in two before him.
“My heart was racing! My big sister cried because the wind was so strong.”
Jojo also says that the garden his family depends on for food was wiped out by the cyclone. “I went to the garden with my father and the flying foxes were on the ground feeding on pawpaw. Normally they are in the air and they don’t come out during the day.”
When Jojo and his friends visited his school they found total destruction; “Crayons were everywhere. Our books were all over the floor and my teacher’s table was broken”.
With UNICEF’s support, schools like Melemaat received tents that were used by children as temporary classrooms, as well as education supplies, including backpacks pre-packed with crayons, pencils, coloured pencils and books. These tents allowed children to quickly return to learning, supporting emotional recovery and providing a safe, structured environment at a very stressful time when parents needed to be focusing on clean up. UNICEF also helped the community to access clean, safe drinking water.
Jojo lost his school bag and school supplies in the cyclone so UNICEF’s back-to-school kit was welcomed. “I like the backpack” he says. “I like the colours and pencils. Mine were missing after the cyclone.” Since the beginning of the Cyclone Pam response 27,302 children like Jojo have received learning materials and other school supplies to support early return to school.
A year on from the cyclone and life is still difficult for the children and teachers at Melemaat Primary. Despite the best efforts of his school and community, Jojo and his classmates are still attending classes in four tents. Staff who normally live on site are also in temporary accommodation.
Jojo’s Head Teacher Roy tells us that two classrooms were rebuilt in just two days after the cyclone with huge support from the local business community and all parents and children, including Jojo, lending a hand. The school plans to rebuild another three classrooms, the school library and staff housing this year.
Jojo looks forward to going back to school in a permanent classroom later this year. Cyclone Pam may still be a bad memory but it’s clear that he and his classmates are focused on the new school year and on making positive new memories as Vanuatu recovers from the worst natural disaster in its history.
Thanks to swift and generous support from every one of you, UNICEF is working in partnership with the Government of Vanuatu to help children and communities affected by Cyclone Pam. In the past months we’ve made sure that:
- 51,234 people have access to safe drinking water, stopping the spread of waterborne disease
- 128,012 children under 5 years have been protected from killer diseases such as measles through vaccinations and medication
- 42,885 people have been supported to stay healthy and maintain their dignity with hygiene and sanitation supplies
- 152,845 people have been issued with new or replacement birth certificates, ensuring that they have an official identity and can access much-needed services
- 34,210 children have received learning materials and school supplies, helping them to get back to their studies and normality
- 10,602 children were supported to access safe spaces for trauma relief and emotional recovery
Tank yu tumas (Bislama for thank you).