Friday, April 10, 2015

Coping with Natural Disaster: Building Resilience

Joao de Jesus Araujo, the eight-grade student of the Maumeta Basic Education Central School, Remexio of Aileu district attending emergency orientation session along with his classmates.
UNICEF Timor-Leste/Joao de Jesus
Mountainous village Maumeta of Aileu is two hours’ drive from Dili, capital of Timor-Leste. Inhabitants of this village are living with natural disaster as part of their life.

“Flood, strong wind, lightning and landslide are common disasters we face every year in our village,” says Zeremias Martin (14), while talking about natural disaster.

“It was mid-January 2015, when heavy rain and strong winds accompanied by lightning occurred in Maumeta village and lasted for a week. This is not something new for the villagers as our village is located at the mountain area. This time we are able to handle the situation better with support from my teachers, neighbours and fellow students; thanks to the training that we received on disaster risk reduction,” says Joao de Jesus Araujo, a 19 -year old, 8th-grade student of Maumeta Basic Education Central School, Remexio.

Maumeta Basic Education Public School was also affected by this recent natural disaster. “Four of our classrooms were badly affected by heavy rain. Following the learning of the recent training, all students from those four classrooms were shifted to the comparatively better other two classrooms. We work with the School Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) to make this arrangement, we no longer need not skip school during rain,” says confident Joao.

Leading the way

Joao is an active member in his community. “I regularly attend the community meetings in my village where we discuss on various issues related to our community including how to prevent and prepare for natural disasters,” says Joao. Joao’s activism is not only limited at the community level, he also leads the Student Council of his school as a President and participate in the School Disaster Management Committee (SDMC).

Joao and his team actively participate in the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project which was implemented in his school as part of the Child-Friendly Schools Initiative implemented by the Education Ministry under the “Eskola Foun” (new school) approach in partnership with UNICEF and Plan International. Maumeta Basic Education Public School was selected as one of the schools among 15 schools who were part of disaster risk reduction programme.

“I have learned how to prepare ourselves to tackle emergency, now we know that we should not wait for the last minute but to go to the secure place before the disaster hits,” says Florida Casandra, a member of the SDMC. “We have responsibility to share information with our community members so they can prepare themselves to reduce risk during natural calamity,” Florida continues.

“Students, teachers, community members- all of them participate during the simulation session held in our school as we are like a pillar, we have to work together for our children,” says Isac Sarmento, Director of Aileu District Education.

Preparing for handling natural disasters 

Joao participated actively in various DRR activities including school and community orientations. Together with other members, Joao was actively engaged in undertaking the school risk mapping and analysis of the risk situation in the school, the simulation exercise, and the project assessment interview.

“I have attended the first aid kit orientation and gained knowledge and skills on how to treat my friends in case they have accidents at the school and refer them to nearest health facilities.

“I play active role in DRR activity in the school and in my community. If I feel that the strong wind will destroy the roof, I’ll leave the classroom and alert everyone on the megaphone or ring the bell to inform my peers that there is a strong wind.”

“In case of an earthquake, I ring the bell twice and they will know there is an earthquake, if I ring three times that means it is time for preparation, and four times is for alert and students will follow the evacuation way to gather in the evacuation location outside the classroom,” Joao continues.

“Through the DRR pilot project, the students and teachers were trained well.  Now they are well prepared and capable of handling the situation if disasters occur,” says Julio da Costa, the Director of Maumeta Basic Education Central School.

Opening new avenue for “Eskola Foun” 

Joao and other students, teachers and parents, as well as community members in Maumeta Village, have been benefitted from the nine month Pilot Project for Integration of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) into Child Friendly Schools (CFS).

The “Eskola Foun” approach aims to build capacity of the schools and community in preparation for natural disasters, and make their schools a safer place for students, teachers and their communities. The programme was implemented from March – November 2014 in 15 schools in Aileu District. Maumeta Basic Education Central School was one of the schools received training.

Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of the Maumeta School appreciated this new skills that children have learned through the training. “Children are now aware of what to do during strong wind or heavy rain and alert us to take shelter in safe place during bad weather,” says Mosies Carvalho, a member of the PTA while acknowledging the importance of the DRR training for children.

The learning of the pilot phase brings new opportunity for the students in 15 schools. The Education Ministry of Timor-Leste considering possible replication of the model in other schools in the future.

By Vicente Teotonio Lopes, Education Officer, UNICEF

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