17 September, 2019
The powerful ocean storm that struck the Bahamas earlier this month killed more than 50 people and destroyed many homes, businesses and school buildings.
Now, Bahamian education officials are trying to find classroom space for students whose families have been displaced.
Hurricane Dorian was one of the most powerful storms in the country's recorded history. It made landfall on September 1 and remained on top of the northern Bahamas for almost 50 hours. It damaged or destroyed nearly every structure on the island of Great Abaco. The nearby Grand Bahama island was hit hard, too.
Bahamian officials say they hope fewer than 10,000 students would need to be placed into new schools. The plan is to move them to schools across the islands.
Officials recently set up what they describe as a "one-stop shop" for the displaced students. Last Thursday, those students gathered inside the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, the Bahamian capital.
The students – aged 4 to 19 – waited in line for clothing, school supplies, shots and vision and hearing tests. They also sought appointments to speak with volunteer mental health workers.
"These kids need their education, how are they going to get jobs or have any options?" said Chandra Alexis, an 18-year-old evacuee from Abaco, about 150 kilometers north of Nassau.
"We lost everything; without school there's nothing," she said. She was waiting in line to find out which schools her younger sister and another family member would attend this year.
The island of Abaco had 17 schools, most of them public. Grand Bahama had about 20 schools, said Belinda Wilson. She is president of Bahamas Union of Teachers. She said all of the union's members on the two islands were found safe.
Public schools on most islands opened on September 9, a week later than the planned opening. But on Abaco and Grand Bahama, schools remained closed. Engineers have had to check the safety of the school buildings.
Wilson and the teachers union say that no teacher or student "is going to enter any of those buildings until an engineer is able to say to that those schools are structurally sound."
Lorraine Armbrister is permanent secretary of the Bahamas' Ministry of Education. She said the main goal right now is to get children back into school, "so that they're not further disadvantaged or further traumatized."
She said, "We want to normalize their lives as soon as possible."
The government is registering evacuees living in temporary shelters in the capital. Soon it will work with those staying in Nassau hotels or with family and friends to get their children into schools.
Nassau is on New Providence island. Wilson said that island's schools may not have enough room for all of the displaced children who were evacuated to the capital.
"There are many other islands that could accommodate students," said Wilson, whose union represents about 4,000 teachers on 24 islands.
She added that the process of moving teachers, students and parents to different islands will "take all of our imagination."
The United Nations Children's Fund is working with the Bahamian Education Ministry. It said student sign-ups would begin on other islands in the coming days.
The process is set to continue through the middle of October but may go longer if needed, Armbrister said. With every student needing health exams, education officials are able to process only about 200 to 300 students a day.
I'm Anne Ball.
This story was written by Reuters reporter Zachary Fagenson in Nassau. Anne Ball adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
displaced – v. to force people or animals to leave the area where they live
disadvantaged – adj. lacking the things (such as money and education) that are considered necessary for an equal position in society
traumatized – v. to cause (someone) to become very upset in a way that often leads to serious emotional problems : to cause (someone) to suffer emotional trauma