Days before children were due back to school for a new year, the eruption of a massive underwater volcano triggered a devasting tsunami in Tonga.
Waves tore through the tiny island nation, forcing hundreds to flee to higher ground and destroying homes and schools. Ash blanketed the country and polluted drinking water, making it unsafe to drink.
Devastation hits the island nation
Lives were lost and many homes and schools were destroyed or extensively damaged when the disaster hit.
Severe damage to some schools and complete destruction of others threatened to delay the return to school for thousands of Tongan children. On the main islands of Tongatapu, Eua and Ha’apai, communities rallied to clear the three inches of sand and volcanic dust blanketing homes, roads and schools.
The efforts were led by parents and teachers, who were anxious to ensure schools are safe and functional for children before the return of academic year. Curriculum materials, including textbooks and note pads, were damaged beyond use, along with class furniture. At one school, classroom buildings have been severely damaged from the waves carrying rocks from the sea and roadside.
Kiwis rally to support
Thanks to generous Kiwis like you, we raised close to $100,000 to help children in Tonga return safely to school. The money raised was used to provide school materials, including classroom kits, chalkboards, school bags, school recreation kits and large tents to be used as temporary learning spaces were urgently shipped to Tonga to help minimise disruption to children’s education.
Tonga experiences another blow
One month on, Tongans faced another crisis – the first outbreak of COVID-19.
The virus was first detected in two wharf workers distributing aid. The government moved quickly, shuttering businesses and closing schools.
Hundreds of displaced families and their children went into lockdown and crowded into evacuation shelters. Efforts to distribute aid, rebuild homes and keep children learning was hampered by efforts to stop the virus.
In any crisis, children are always the most vulnerable. A compounding disaster can severely affect children’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing.
We’re there in times of crisis – and beyond
Thanks to your support, our locally based team are committed to making sure children get the support and protection they need during times of crisis and long after. During lockdown, we worked with the Tongan Ministry of Education and Training to keep children learning by rolling out remote educational resources via TV and radio.
When restrictions eased, Save the Children worked with the Ministry to provide school bags and learning materials to the students who have lost everything. Child Friendly Spaces will be set up to give children a place to play, receive support and start to process what they’ve been through.
For children who attend regularly, these safe spaces provide them a sense of normalcy and routine which can improve their psychosocial wellbeing. The spaces also help families sort out their homes and livelihoods knowing their children are being cared for.
Sadly, the people of Pacific Island nations are used to facing disasters. With seawaters rising across the Pacific as a result of climate change, countries like Tonga are more vulnerable than ever to tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
Thanks to your generous support, we’ll help Tongan families piece their lives back together and recover from this disaster - and be more resilient for the next.