Principal's wish: Relocate flood-prone school in Albay

ALBAY, Philippines – If given the choice, the principal of an elementary school in Usman-hit Tiwi town in this province would move her school elsewhere so that students, parents, and teachers alike would have nothing to fear during rainy weather.

Joroan Elementary School principal Mary Jean Cirujales expressed her wish as her school was once again flooded due to the heavy rains brought by Tropical Depression Usman on December 28 and 29, 2018. 

“Our location is flood-prone, as we are in the lowland, near farm irrigation and a river," If we had the choice, we would relocate,” said Cirujales, when asked what she thought would be the best solution to the school's constant flooding problem.

The latest flood lasted several days. It left piles of muddy books and other learning materials, and damaged part of the school's perimeter walls. 

Not an isolated case

DESTROYED BOOKS. The school is waiting for replacements from the Department of Education. Photo by Mavic Conde/Rappler

DESTROYED BOOKS. The school is waiting for replacements from the Department of Education.

Photo by Mavic Conde/Rappler

According to Cirujales, it was not the first time the school was damaged by flooding – such incidents have been happening over the last 23 years. She said she learned this from the parents themselves.

“The students' parents told me a flashflood occurred at noon on a fine day in 1996, and everyone in the school had to cling to a rope while being assisted by residents to get to a safer place,” the principal said. 

“As the new school head, I only learned about it now. Neither had I been briefed about it,”  she added.

Since then, parents would fetch their kids on rainy school days even if classes were not suspended, fearing a repeat of the 1996 incident. 

“They would tell us, 'the mountain is white’ from raining. We let them be,” she said. 

After all in her experience, there were times when it would rain hard in Joroan village but remained sunny in the Tiwi town proper. 

Previous typhoon damages

The school library and 4 classrooms were damaged by Typhoon Nina (international name: Nock-ten) repair, on Christmas day in 2016, and have yet to be repaired.

Because of the damaged classrooms, one Grade 1 class had to use the stage as a makeshift classroom but Usman worsened the stage's condition. 

“The stage has no more roof so we have to merge the class to two sections,” Cirujales  said. 

She added that Usman further damaged the books in the library, which already had leaking roofs.

Cirujales  said the P471,000-budget for the school this year would not be enough to cover major typhoon damages. 

“We have utility bills, teachers, supplies to pay and pending repair costs. We even have to find a way for the beautification of the school,” Cirujales  said. 

The school had enlisted the help of some members of the parents-teachers association to help with repairs in exchange for food.

Students, community response

The school has 494 affected students. One hundred thirteen are from Purok 4 or what locals call Nazareth, while others are from Purok 6. Both areas have been heavily affected by flooding.

Cirujales said that the younger students seemed to be nonchalant about their situation but the older students and their parents, and teachers who live in Joroan were concerned about the constant flooding in the school.

There are Barangay Joroan residents like Rowel Austria, an overseas Filipino worker, who had experienced the school flashflood but favored improving the infrastructure around the school over relocation.

“There must be a better river infrastructure. That school flooding happened because of the lack of it,” Austria said. 

“Also, it would help if the farm owners near the school would have one irrigation system in place instead of each just minding its own,” he added. 

Aside from safety issues, the principal's concern is anchored on the fact that the school goes back to square one every time disaster struck.

“I’m embracing the challenge but there's no denying it is a lot of work,” Cirujales said. 

Imagine the frustration of having to deal with school repair jobs and not having the fund for it, she added. –