The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, is assisting Malawi’s students to continue their education in areas affected by a recent tropical storm.
Students in the country’s 17 flooded districts are taking their lessons outdoors, in the shade of trees, after Tropical Storm Ana ravaged the region, affecting over 900,000 people, destroying school blocks and washing away learning materials.
The government is still assessing the damage as the flooding continues three weeks after Ana passed.
In Chikwawa district, one of the hardest hit districts, education experts say partial assessment shows the storm which also hit parts of Madagascar , Mozambique and Zimbabwe, has destroyed over 50 school buildings.
Mac Shades Dakamau, chief education officer for Chikwawa district, says the damage is unprecedented.
“We are hit very, very hard with [Tropical Storm] Ana. For example, classrooms have been damaged, toilets have collapsed, and we had mud in all affected classrooms. And for the first time, we have a very big number of schools affected,” he said.
According to Dakamau, poor learning conditions forced over half of students to be absent from schools.
“Some of the learners have lost their uniform, the textbooks, and pens, name it. So it hit very hard in Chikwawa,” he added.
Teachers at Sekeni Primary School in Chikwawa district say the floods damaged the school and washed away textbooks and other learning materials.
However to solve the problem, UNICEF, under its School in a Box initiative, has provided learning materials, which include notebooks, pens, face coverings and footballs.
“I was very happy that we are able to hand over some learning materials and also some recreational material at that school which also by the way had water supply provided by UNICEF for hand washing and lucky that did not get damaged during the floods,” said Rudolf Schwenk, country director for UNICEF in Malawi.
He said the U.N. children’s agency is also considering providing temporary learning shelters for affected schools and evacuation camps.
“Because it’s important for their psycho-social development if they continue learning. So I think that is of critical importance also to look after the children in the camps who are not yet able to go back to their schools,” Schwenk said.
Minister of Education Agness Nyalonje said in parliament this week that the government has also established an education in emergency plan, which aims to ensure continued learning for children in times of natural disasters.
However, Nyalonje ruled out plans to relocate schools from flood-prone areas, saying doing so would inconvenience students living there.