School opens in the Philippines typhoon zone

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

Philippines (MNN) — While schools throughout North America are just ending the school year for the summer, for thousands of students in the Philippines, the school year just got started this week.

Yet, seven months after Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the region, many schools remain piles of rubble. Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer says, “In our initial surveys, we found 230+ schools that were either damaged or destroyed in the Typhoon impact areas.” Complicating matters, new regulations requiring higher building standards so schools withstand future typhoons led to delays.

Still, BGR teams got to work. “We partnered with eight different schools to rebuild about 16-17 buildings or repair those. It’s kind of nice to go to a few of those schools and see that they are ready to get back into session.”

The feeling of urgency stems from a basic need for recovery in order to heal the emotional scars. Palmer explains, “Part of that recovery is getting back into normalized life, like getting kids back into schools–getting that rhythm back into life. That’s an important process in the disaster response: moving to recovery, moving to rehabilitation, and on to development.”

Roofs were torn off. Some walls were down. Houses in the neighborhoods slowly were being rebuilt, but there was no money to repair the schools. The Department of Education needed help. Each day the schools were crippled, the future dimmed a bit more for the children. Palmer says, “We worked with about eight schools, about 15 to 18 buildings, like I said. We’ve helped with almost 800 homes now in a couple of different impact areas. In the midst of all of that, we’ve been able to proclaim Truth and give the hope that’s in the Gospel to the Filipinos that we’re working with.”

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

(Photo courtesy Baptist Global Response)

The six-month rebuilding project cycles new teams in every two weeks, says Don Hargis, who directs disaster relief efforts for the California Southern Baptist Convention, which coordinates with BGR. Baptist Global Response purchases supplies locally, which helps revive the local economy. On-site construction coordinators stay a month at a time. By the end of the project, 84 volunteers will have helped ten elementary schools back on their feet.

The challenge of rebuilding lives in the Philippines will stretch on for months, notes Palmer. “A lot of people are still living in barracks; a lot of people are still living in shanties, and little tents, and temporary shelters, so [we’re] trying to move them back into homes.”

Learn how you can help by visiting BGR’s Typhoon Haiyan project page.