“I have been promoted to grade four with good grades,” says Janene while holding up her results sheet. Her sparkling eyes and glowing face reflect her happiness and pride in her achievement.
Janene Mae Gahi, 10, is a student at Manlurip Elementary School in Tacloban. As she mingles with her friends at their graduation ceremony, Janene seems to be making her way out of the haunting memory of Typhoon Haiyan.
“I would like to be a teacher, and to teach students Maths and English. I will teach them how to spell correctly and write sentences as my teachers have taught me,” Janene says.
“Today’s graduation ceremony is a different event compared to any other I have attended as the school principal. Children and parents came together and celebrated the day in spite of their heavy heart from losing parents, siblings and friends,” says Elenita Montalban, principal of Manlurip Elementary School.
“We had 382 students before Typhoon Haiyan Some 80 children did not return to school after the disaster. Many have moved to other places with their families,” Ms. Montalban adds. Located close to the shore, Manlurip Elementary School is one of the schools hardest-hit by Typhoon Yolanda, as Haiyan is known locally.
Classes were held in tents and makeshift classrooms after the typhoon. “We are grateful to UNICEF for their immediate assistance that enabled us to resume classes in January. Today we are able to complete our school calendar successfully in spite of huge challenges,” says Ms. Montalban.
UNICEF and partners provided 470,000 children in the affected areas with learning materials. Some 135,000 children benefitted from over 1,300 UNICEF-supported temporary learning spaces equipped with school-in-a-box, recreational, and early childhood and development kits.
Janene used to live with her parents and ten siblings in Barangay 89. Like countless others, their house was wiped away by the typhoon.
“My house was made of brick and concrete. We did not expect it to collapse. We thought we were safe,” says Gion Gahi, Janene’s father.
Janene recalls the day that the typhoon hit: “There was a strong wind. All of a sudden, a powerful surge came and washed everything away. All I remember was being pushed up by the wave to the roof of Saint Patrick. Someone held my hand and lifted me to the top of the roof, then my father found me as he managed to take shelter on the rooftop of the next building.” Saint Patrick is a government office building located half a kilometre away from Janene’s house.
Janene cannot fight back the tears while talking about her loss. “My mother, one of my sisters and four brothers died. We were unable to find their bodies. My sister Jeain was a year older than me and my playmate. I miss her all the time,” she says.
Janene and the remaining members of her family took shelter in their grandfather’s house in San Jose after the typhoon. “We don’t have anything left. Our house, with all our possessions, is washed away. We now have to set up our old place in Barangay 89 from scratch,” Mr. Gahi says.
Six months after Typhoon Haiyan, Janene returned to her home. Where their family’s house used to be now stands a tent that Mr. Gahi managed to set up. Like many others in their community, Janene and her family live in this temporary shelter until her father is able to build a new house.
“I used to work as a jeepney driver before the storm. I have decided to stay at home and take care of my children as nobody is available to make food for them, do the laundry or do household chores. It is a hard choice because I have no income,” Mr. Gahi says. “With the school now closed for two months in summer, the children stay together at home and I can go to work. I want to invest all my efforts to ensure education for my children. I want them to be educated no matter what.”
Janene’s face reflects the turmoil of emotions she feels as she tries to move on from the disaster without half of her family. “I miss my mother while walking alone on the shore. I used to take walks with her along with my younger brothers on the shore every afternoon. But I am strong. I’ll work hard to achieve my dream,” she says. The song that Janene and her friends sang in their graduation ceremony seems to tell the story of her life, giving her the courage to adapt and start anew:
“So when it begins, get all that you can;
You must befriend the will of the wind…”
Story by Arifa S. Sharmin