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Schools Damaged After Myanmar Floods

Cyclone Komen caused heavy rains, floods and landslides across Rakhine State at the start of August, 2015. Floodwaters reached school roofs and carried away vital learning materials and destroyed some schools altogether. Students are looking forward to returning to their classrooms but the re-building process across the region is expected to take several months.

“The school in our village has opened again, but it’s really damaged. The windows and the door have broken and everything in the classroom has washed away. We don’t have any books yet,” said 10 year old Ma Aye from Rakhine State.

For Ma Aye and her friends, Cyclone Komen was a frightening experience. Children and their families evacuated to the mountains and remained there for 10 days with limited food, water and shelter to escape the floodwaters. Although she’s now back in her home, Ma Aye’s school has been left severely damaged, and schools across the state have been left emptied out by floodwater.

“My older sister goes to middle school, and this school has fallen down. We have nothing to write with. My favourite subject at school was reading but we can’t do this anymore,” Ma Aye explains.

Ma Aye (back row) and her friends whose school was damaged by the floods.

Schools show some of the most visible damage that Cyclone Komen left behind. The dark line on the school walls where the waters reached is high above the adults’ heads. Goats and animals now trek through muddy classrooms; there are no walls or doors to keep them out.

Parents have reported their children are experiencing nightmares after returning home and wake up crying during the night. Returning to a normal routine after a natural disaster is an important step in their recovery process, says Plan International Myanmar’s Emergency Response Manager Hasnain Kazmi.

“When children have experienced a traumatic event – such as when they are forced to leave their homes and belongings behind – they need a sense of routine to return to. That is why education is so important for children after a disaster has occurred. It makes them feel safe and gives them a chance to discuss what they have experienced with their classmates,” explains Kazmi.

Plan International’s Rapid Needs Assessment found that 27 out of 31 schools surveyed need new learning materials. Although schools in Myanmar officially re-opened across Myanmar on August 10, for schools that are destroyed or badly damaged, students could remain out of school for several months.

According to School Principal U Shwe Thein, children are enthusiastic about returning to class. “Our school has been destroyed. We will have to start again. The children really want to go back to school.  We need as much help as possible.”

“Education is one of the main challenges we are facing. Now children don’t go to school at all. If they want to attend school they will have to travel by boat and this isn’t easy.”

A student stands in front of his destroyed school in Rakhine State
A student stands in front of his destroyed school in Rakhine State

According to a 2010 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey Rakhine State is the second poorest state in the country. The State is characterized by the highest unemployment rates and the lowest literacy levels in the country. It is a place where an education could make a significant difference in the lives of children and young adults.

For young people in middle schools whose classrooms have been destroyed, the future remains uncertain. Without a school to attend, girls are at increased risk of getting married at early ages and both boys and girls are assisting their parents with farming and village cleaning while they are away from their classrooms.

Plan International Myanmar has been implementing education programmes in Rakhine State since 2014. Intervention areas for the response phase include providing teaching and learning materials for primary aged students, school refurbishments, WASH facility rehabilitation, installation of temporary learning spaces where schools require reconstruction and psychosocial support training to teachers.