Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March but for thousands of pre-schoolers across the island nation, there are no kindergartens for them to return to.

Tropical Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools when it struck Vanuatu on 13 March. Up to 60,000 school-aged children have been affected and while some students have been able to resume their learning, many schools have been badly damaged or completely destroyed and will take months to rebuild.

Young children are particularly vulnerable because Vanuatu`s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. Instead, these are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising in the local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in less children attending class.

This is why ChildFund Australia has partnered with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two kindergartens that were completely destroyed on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using the latest cyclone-resistant kindergarten designs and will include rainwater systems and toilets so that children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindies will also be wheelchair-accessible.

“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.

Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand Vanuatu Rebuild also pitched in for 10 days.

The project is on track, however, it has been a bit of an uphill battle with construction materials in short supply and a severe lack of water.

“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” says Ms Nelson. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn`t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”

Still, working together with the community, combined with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.

ChildFund together with Live & Learn will also be supporting families of the kindy children to rebuild their livelihoods, providing chickens and poultry management training, and seedlings for home gardens.

In Cambodia 56 per cent of the entire population are under the age of 25. Without enough waged work available in local communities to support Cambodia’s huge youth population, young people often find themselves in risky situations.

Many youth are forced to find jobs in the informal sector that involve bad working conditions and low pay, while others are lured to urban areas in search of better opportunities to support their families. In fact, about 2.5 million young Cambodians are internal migrants.

 

Socheet from rural Svay Rieng province was 15 when she was forced to drop out of school to support her family. Like thousands of others she moved to Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, to find work. Though what she found was long hours and low wages at a garment factory.

17-year-old Vichet also left school at 15. He migrated illegally to Thailand to work as a labourer. Now, after returning to his village, re-enrolling in school and becoming a peer educator in his local youth club, Vichet wants to be a role model for others.

“I want to tell youth and children in Cambodia to try to avoid migration, if possible. We are children. We are youth,” says Vichet. “We`re not at the age where we should be earning money. We are at the age where we’re dependent on our parents. We should focus on studies.”

ChildFund Cambodia’s youth projects are supporting young Cambodians to earn an income and create a life for themselves without relocating away from their families and homes. Over the past financial year, 50 youth groups with almost 2,000 members have been established and supported by ChildFund.

These groups are also helping to build the confidence of those like Vichet and Socheet to be the next leaders of their villages, which with the bulk of Cambodia’s population below the age of 25 will make a difference for the entire country in years to come.