Cyclone Pam rips through Vanuatu’s Manua school

Children walk down a devastated main road on the north side of the main island of Efate. Photo: Lawrence Smith Children walk down a devastated main road on the north side of the main island of Efate. Photo: Lawrence Smith
Shanghai night field

Children walk down a devastated main road on the north side of the main island of Efate. Photo: Lawrence Smith

Children walk down a devastated main road on the north side of the main island of Efate. Photo: Lawrence Smith

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As Cyclone Pam ripped at the roof of Manua School, a group of men, women and children pulled desperately on electrical cable keeping them from harm.

In pitch darkness, the group rigged the ropes to the roof’s rafters so they could try to hold it down.

It was a move that probably saved them.

“When the gale-force wind came in we tried very hard to keep the roof hanging on the house,” teacher Cooper Henry said. “It was the last thing we could do to save our families.

“Every time when the cyclone was heaving the roof up we had to [pull on the ropes], I was the captain and would call out “pull!” and everyone would hang on to the rope, even the little kids who were still awake. We stopped them from sleeping because it’s not safe.”

Usually home during the day to 314 children, the well-known school is now a scene of absolute destruction.

The school roof is gone.

School books, papers and toys are scattered in all directions, while the teachers and their families have nowhere to go.

Their homes lie in piles of rubble, with some parts stuck up in trees.

School principal Melizabeth Uhi said she had no idea when, or if, the school would reopen, because most of the pupils’ families were homeless.

“It’s more than I can explain, it’s too much for us,” she said.

“We woke up in the morning, on Saturday we came out and everything was gone. All our properties and everything were blown away. Everybody were walking around the front crying, that’s it, you just have to accept.”

Evan Shuurman, a member of the Save the Children charity in Port Vila, said there were an estimated 45,000 children who would not be going to school for the foreseeable future.

Many schools were either destroyed or are being used as evacuation centres, making them unusable for teaching.

“It’s a really challenging situation because homes have been destroyed, and until families can return home . . . they need somewhere to stay and schools are a common and logical place to use as safety centres,” he said.

“We want to minimise the length of time kids stay out of school as much as possible. Apart from the fact they’re missing out on valuable education, [going to] school is such an important place for children who have been through trauma, it provides them with routine and a sense of normality.”

For Henry, the pain is amplified by the fact he is yet to learn the fate of his parents, grandmother and extended family who live on Epi, an outer island in remote Shefa province.

With no communications available, he has no idea when he will receive word from them.

Until then, he plans to listen to the Government, and despite everything is thankful for what help they may receive.

“I would like to say thank you very much for the books you’ve given to us,” he said.

The Government of New Zealand has been donating a lot of educational materials to our school.

“I’m sorry if we’re asking you for more books for our kids, very sorry. We are still depending on aid. We hope we’ll be receiving some help from you.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.