Vanuatu: Teacher union steps up relief efforts to communities amidst COVID-19 and natural disasters
Confronted with three major crises - COVID-19, a tropical cyclone, and a volcanic eruption - Vanuatu’s education union is doing their best to ensure the health and safety of educators, students, and their communities. They do this by continuing to provide education of the best possible quality and bringing relief aid to populations in the most affected areas.
In Vanuatu, schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic following the declaration of a state of emergency on 26 March to prevent the spreading of the virus.
While no case of contamination has yet been noted in the country, the Vanuatu Teachers’ Union (VTU) has insisted that the following measures were needed:
- Extending the state of emergency
- Continuing home schooling
- Implementing social distancing practices
- Reinforcing frequent handwashing and ensuring an adequate number of necessary sanitation supplies
The VTU has also made plans to financially assist its members after tropical cyclone Harold hit the northern islands of Vanuatu from 5-7 April. A Category 5 cyclone, Harold was the strongest cyclone to hit Vanuatu since cyclone Pam in 2015. With strong winds, heavy rainfalls and flash flooding, this latest cyclone caused extensive damage in the Malampa, Penama, Sanma, and Torba provinces.
At the same time, volcanic activities on the Tanna Island also increased, leading to water contamination.
Not only were houses and shelters heavily devastated, but food and water sources were also destroyed. Food growing in gardens was destroyed, leading to food shortages within weeks of the cyclone. The VTU has received reports that some teachers had to feed their families with a cup of rice for two meals. In addition, some teachers still do not yet live under a roof.
Schools have also been heavily affected, and all schools in the northern provinces have shut their doors until further notice.
The VTU has kept in contact with branch presidents of the four concerned northern provinces. And it has liaised with public authorities, including the Ministry of Education and Training, to develop an emergency response distribution plan.
Disaster task force
The union’s national executive has nominated and mandated a task force focusing on how to best assist members in this critical time of natural disasters.The response distribution plan targets the Malampa, Penama, Sanma, and Torba provinces in northern Vanuatu, as well as Tanna Island. Aid distributed has included mostly food – flour, rice, crackers – and health and sanitary items, such as soap, mosquito repellents, and paracetamol drugs.
Due to the geographical configuration of the diverse islands, the VTU hired a boat to carry the goods from island to island, shore to shore, and to visit members and bring them relief and food.
The education union’s efforts have made a difference, helping and bringing relief to 562 members so far.
Homes to be rebuilt
“Despite the effort made, we deeply regret that most teachers in the northern islands of Vanuatu are still living under open roofs. It is a big challenge that requires their homes to be fully restored and rebuilt again,” said Govind Singh, General Secretary of the Council of Pacific Education (COPE). COPE is a sub-regional structure of Education International.
“The welfare of teachers in Vanuatu at this point of the disaster is not ensured, which contributes to them not performing their profession to the expected standard. There are great needs to be met.”
Acknowledging that the VTU has been and is still trying its best to address these issues, Singh called for an immediate response via humanitarian assistance from COPE through its development partners.