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Education in times of crisis

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Education-in-times-of-crisisIn light of the recent earthquakes in Nepal, students and teachers from the International School Nido de Aguilas and Santiago College, in Chile, reflect on the earthquake that swept the country in 2010. They tell IB World magazine how they managed to provide an education through this uncertain time and pulled together to help rebuild local communities.

On Sunday 31 May 2015, 14,000 students went back to school in Nepal after their classrooms were destroyed in two major earthquakes that brought devastation to the country. More than 8,600 people were killed and thousands were left homeless by the 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude earthquakes that struck on 25 April and 12 May respectively.

The Nepalese Government wanted students back in the classroom as soon as possible to help regain a sense of normality. As the reconstruction of buildings will take time, students are currently using temporary classrooms – made from bamboo, wood, steel or canvas – following five weeks in temporary learning centres.

At the time of publication, students are using learning materials and early childhood kits provided by UNICEF and other Global Partnership for Education partners. More than 32,000 classrooms were destroyed, and there are still 985,000 children who have not been able to return to school.

This brings back memories for Nicole L’Huillier, a candidate for the IB Diploma Programme at Santiago College, in Santiago, Chile. She recounts her experience of the February 2010 Chile earthquake, which measured 8.8 on the Richter scale and affected two million people.

“Even though the casualties in Nepal were greater than in Chile, the memories, sorrow and empathy it produced in all of us was undeniable. In my experience, I have never felt so small, insignificant and scared in my whole life than during the earthquake.

Chilean earthquake

International School Nido de Aguilas following the 2010 earthquake in Chile

“I remember, that night, waking up and not having a clue what was going on. All I could see was everything falling around me. I truly thought it was the end of the world. Three minutes has never felt so eternal.

“After the earthquake, I didn’t know what had happened. Fortunately, my family and friends were safe and well. The only thing we could do was to help others who were less fortunate.

“One of the most important values all IB Programmes convey, through the IB Learner Profile, is to be caring. This is something we have been taught throughout our school years and it is in these very situations of chaos and uncertainty where we can see the goodwill, solidarity and empathy present in our community.

“As a school, we quickly rallied the parents in a food and blanket drive, which were collected over a week,” remembers Peter Barnett, Upper School Principal at Santiago College. “The gymnasium was filled with non-perishable food, toiletries, blankets and bedding and shipped off to Curanipe, the town that we selected to provide emergency help. I helped to distribute the supplies, along with four other teachers.

“Our 11th and 12th grade students travelled to Cauquenes where hundreds of homes had collapsed. They spent several days there, working all day building shelters and preparing their own meals. They even slept on cement floors.

“For many students it was the defining moment of their lives. Many went on to join Un Techo Para Chile or Levantemos Chile, two organizations which aim to provide a better quality of life for Chileans.”

But this wasn’t enough for some, as Nicole remembers: “I don’t think we have fully recovered from the tremor that shook our country that night. Many families lost everything they had.”

Barnett agrees that things will never be the same. He adds: “We changed our outdoor education trips for a couple of years because parents were really apprehensive about aftershocks while the students were camping.”

Santiago College had to delay the start of the school year for a week to ensure that the building was safe. International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago – which offers the IB Diploma Programme – was closed for a week, too. The students and faculty there did not have access to library resources for a further three months as the entire media center ceiling had caved in.

Middle School and High School Media Center Director Linda Strauss, says: “It was so sad to have to turn students and teachers away, and not be able to share the resources they would normally have access to. It was especially sad to have an empty library for so long.”

During this time, students used classroom collections, online resources and textbooks to complete their schoolwork.

Students and teachers alike joined in to helped repair the library. Once the ceiling tiles were back in place, IB Diploma Programme students worked at weekends to help re-shelve books and received CAS hours.

“It took students a full weekend to put the books back on the shelves,” recalls Strauss. “I remember, I told students about the project and thought that maybe six students would come in to help. But more than 15 showed up.”

The school supported the community too: “Our students and faculty worked in the more affected areas of the city, helping rebuild homes,” says Strauss. “The entire Nido community collected clothes, medicine and blankets to be distributed among the areas of the country that were most affected.”

“Schools are really good institutions to channel emergency aid ­– students very much want to reach out and help,” says Barnett. “The empathy that is built in these situations is a beautiful manifestation of our globalized world and represents international mindedness at its best.”

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