UNICEF: Sint Maarten shows resilience, needs investments

PHILIPSBURG–After completing its post-disaster education needs assessment on the island, the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF concludes that the education sector has shown resilience before, during and after the hurricanes. However, longer-term psychosocial and material support for children and teachers is needed to ensure full recovery.

Investments are required to develop School Safety Plans at every school, day-care centre and afterschool programme. The assessment, done by a team from UNICEF Netherlands and facilitated by the Department of Youth, consisted of field visits to primary and secondary schools, day-care centres and church and community afterschool programmes.
UNICEF said in a press statement Sunday that it commends the Education Ministry’s efforts to re-open all schools shortly after the harrowing impact Hurricane Irma had on the country. “In line with one of UNICEF’s most essential principles in humanitarian action ‘Education Cannot Wait,’ the Ministry positioned children’s education as an immediate priority,” said UNICEF-expert on education in emergencies Bart Vrolijk.
UNICEF staff interacted with school managers, teachers, and students during the school visits and enquired about their experiences and sense of wellbeing in preparation for, during and after the storm. Care teams and teachers at each of the schools visited received timely psychosocial support debriefings via the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport (ECYS). Care teams and teachers are providing ongoing psychosocial support to students with continued support from SSSD as needed.
SSSD has also made provisions to secure individual counselling for school staff by psychologists on the island. UNICEF assisted SSSD with the development of a student observation checklist and collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to purchase materials for care teams within the schools to support the psychosocial and socio-emotional wellbeing of their students.
UNICEF is using the results of the assessment to contribute technical expertise to the development of the ECYS interdepartmental recovery plan with a focus on the needs of children, adolescents and teachers.
While most schools and youth-based organisations employed basic disaster preparedness procedures, UNICEF and SSSD recommend that support organisations develop systematic School Safety Plans with an emphasis on student and teacher wellbeing and youth participation in disaster risk management; to integrate disaster risk reduction into schools’ curriculums and to train professionals working with children and youth to provide community-based psychosocial support in the aftermath of disasters, to enhance positive coping mechanisms.
UNICEF also recommends that the Ministry obtain regional expertise on sustainable and appropriate, child-friendly and hazard-resistant school construction standards and designs.
To mitigate post-disaster vandalism of schools and afterschool community centres, UNICEF proposes to initiate programming that will strengthen the connection and sense of ownership between community members and public spaces and to support schools and community centres involved in afterschool activities to function as protective learning environments that can, for example, provide information to child registry systems after emergencies.
The education needs assessment was based on UNICEF’s Core Commitments to Children in Humanitarian Action framework and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crises and Early Reconstruction. ECYS invited UNICEF to conduct the assessment from a children’s rights perspective.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/70553-unicef-sint-maarten-shows-resilience-needs-investments