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Uphill battle to restore education in Vanuatu

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.

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