Sunday, October 26, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
It took me four (4)months to get back into school. Our school building was used as a hurricane shelter. School administrators treated us as if nothing had happened. Within two (2)weeks we had an examination to determine if we would be allowed to write the life altering final examinations administered by the University of Cambridge. I failed woefully, studying by candlelight. By the end of the second term (semester)I had another exam to determine if I would graduate, again I failed. I could not reconcile how I came from the top two in class to this. It was the same cohort of students. So I did not make it to graduation (graduation for us is simply a right of passage. It has no currency) but I focused on the all important University of Cambridge final examination, which I passed.
It was not until I came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 and I was researching for an independent study on children and schooling in the aftermath of hurricanes that I finally came face to face with my experience. Since no one had done any work in the area, I depended on online sources, reports and briefs from news and relief agencies. I found that schools were disrupted for up to six (6) months while they were used as shelters. Other were destroyed and had to be repaired or rebuilt completely and that could take months. parens, teachers and freinds had died. I also discovered the long lasting effect of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. As I researched and wrote, I remember stumbling across an article 'The Forgotten People of Disaster,' written after hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998. As I read the experiences of children, for the first time, I came face to face with mine and I simply lost it. I just broke down and wept as I remembered, how I struggled alone to piece my life together. It was my final year of high school and so much depended on that year and there was no support as I came to terms with the experience. Since then, we have had many hurricanes, none like David but each time one of these comes; the fears, the stress, the apprehension of that first experience are relived, several times a year.
From that day, I decided to give children in areas of chronic disasters a voice and a face. They are 'The forgotten People of Disaster." They are the silent sufferers and endure multiple afflictions - personally and educationally. My work starts therefore from understanding chronic disasters. While the mainstream schools has focused on disasters as acute events, I focus on disasters as chronic events and the persistent debilitation and recurring exposure require different approaches theoretically and conceptually. I know I can make a difference for children and for their school as we work with them to reconstruct their lives as they reconstruct their schools and communities after disasters.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Finding ways to cope, to bounce back and to do so within days is the objective. We have learnt the art of constucting to withstand hurricanes using concrete structures, heaped roofs with hurricane ties, building on concrete columns or stilts and use of hurricane shutters. We have learnt that we are our neighbors keepers and as citizens we spring into action to help. Our neighbors doors are always open in the face of disasters.
This morning I stepped out of my house to find that a huge tree had fallen across the street and smashing the cars beneath it. Caution tapes were stretched on both sides of the incident, warning unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians and waiting for someone else to clear the tree and the debris. On seeing that, I reflected on the reaction to a similar scene at home in the Caribbean. I would have awaken to find the street cleared. Local chainsaw operators would immediately sprint into action. This experience has become so normal that local communities, neighbors and residents along streets in the Caribbean know the urgency and often with few streets, quick local action is required. Often enough, few others exist to do the task. These have contributed to the kind of resilience that has given Caribbean islands the coping skills during disasters and particularly hurricanes. Roads are cleared almost immediately; teams of electricians move from one island to the next restoring power. Teams of contractors and carpenters travel to the areas needing assitance. Communities must be prepared to spring into response action during hurricanes and any disaster for that matter. Simply waiting for the authorities to do it marks the absence of resilience and a failure to understand that restoring system are essential to averting disaster.
In Galveston, the disruption is such that people are being evacuated, after the hurricane. Those who were evacuated before are unable to return as the clean up, search and rescue continued. Schools have been closed indefinitely. Previous instruction time is being lost particularly for those in their final year and those preparing for crucial exams, the loss of books, uniforms and power are bound to have their impacts. The trauma of having experienced the disaster itself and its aftermath can last for years, affecting learning. We do not know how many schools were destroyed or inundated with water. This can delay further the return to a normal school life. The issue of death of friends, family, teachers and pets can be debilitating for children. Ike is gone but it leaves behind, fast on the hills of Gustav, the Katrina story of risk associated with encroachment on natural and cultural protections, and the vulnerability of coastal regions. We may not be able to do much but we sure can do a better job of community response and local action, and in getting these communities to take more responsibility for their safety. This begins with forging social relations that allows communities to transit to a disaster response mode. This include caring for others and their welfare and understanding that self security is enmeshed with the securing of others. School are pivotal in teaching and fostering that kind of resilience in the young as a foundation for resilient community construction.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
1. The evacuation was a success largely due to Katrina. This was a lesson well learnt more by the people for having experienced Katrina and its aftermath and of course coming so close as it did on the hills on Katrina and having just celebrated the 3rd anniversary. Talk of a dress rehearsal. With most of the people gone, one wonder whether the extensive deployment of the national guard was essential.
2. Hospitals had back-up electricity and landing pads for emergency evacuation should it become necessary
3. The levees we are told held up but Gustav was no Katrina. So the question is, held up to what? I saw leaks and water inundations in several places that appeared to be have been played down or explained away. Had this storm come in with the same venom with which it left Cuba, the results for the levees would have been the same as in Katrina
4. Disaster response is about local organizing and leadership; Thanks to Katrina, local leaders having experienced the worst, were able to keep their nerves this time and call the shorts rather than wait for a distant bureaucracy to do so.
5. Helicopters were waiting in the wings should emergency evacuation become necessary. This was organized before the storm; a lesson learned well.
6. My thesis still held: despite the size of the storm, three critical things will fail and in Gustav they did; telecommunications, transport routes and electrical power - three essential services. This strengthens my positions that local communities, neighborhoods are the basis for organizing for disaster preparation and response. The role of other levels of government is to support and provide the resources to facilitate the organizing.
7. What we have not seen and is still unrecorded is the trauma associated with having to go through this experience again and again. It raises the need to rethink our processes, structures and organizations in the face of this chronic exposure to hurricanes. A different set of arrangement may be required as opposed to those used for acute disasters. This one will keep coming and the response must be the same because big or large, once it's named a hurricane, essential services will collapse and the presence of population in these areas simply turns the disaster into a catastrophe. Katrina was bad because of the water, it was worst because of the people who did not evacuate. This time we got them out, reducing the trauma but vestiges of it remains because each time a new storm comes, it resurrects traumas inflicted by previous storms.
In the absence of these critical services, the responsibility rests on neighborhoods and local communities to respond to the needs of each other; establishing and maintaining the relationships at these levels to accomplish that is paramount.
In the end, it seems, it was the combination of a weaker Gustav and the experience of a stronger Katrina, three years before that may have spared the city but as expected the critical services still collapsed. However we perceive it, moving the people out was the best strategy that could have been employed and it worked, Major Nagin. It worked in part because you had the support and the resources. Now is the time to focus on the resilience and that includes restoring the wetlands because it will happen again.
For me, schools were disrupted again. Children are dispersed in at least five states;their homes may have been destroyed or even their schools. It may be days before they return. They have to make that re-adjustment, settle again and start over. They saw it all three years ago. I wonder how they feel and what coping mechanisms do they use. How prepared in the school system for sometime like this and to think we are in the peak of the hurricane season? It will happen again, this year, next year, the next three years or every year for the next five years. This is chronic. It does not go away. Hurricanes will not go away. We need to be resilient, children need to be made resilient.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Now I am here, pursuing that PhD leading to research on children, Learning and Chronic Natural Disaster. Hence my love affairs with hurricane. I just love watching these storms. I hold a first degree in Geography, half of the Meteorologist back home, I taught in College. There is a fascination with these storms - their growth and development; the calm of the eyes, the surge. It is just unfortunate that man and his creations are in the way, otherwise they would be true forces of nature. Hurricanes are part of the earth global circulatory system. They redistribute, the earth moisture, air pressure and temperature, Without them some places would be too hot, others too dry or the pressure would simple build up to killer levels.
So while I pity those in its way, as a geographer, I cannot help but marvel at the systems as they trek their way. I was in high school in 1979 when Hurricane David struck Dominica and literally flattened the island, killed 49 and left about 75% of the population homeless.
I wonder about schools and the children but I still cannot understand why there are no emergency shelters. Is it the potential for flooding?
There should be more accurate figures on who stayed, where they are and what are their needs. It help to sharpen the response. We should never assume that people will respond to evacuation orders.
Schools will be disrupted again, learning will be suspended and for those who left, we are not sure if and when they will return. Will their schools be left intact? Will they be flooded? With they, their teachers and families make it through safely? All these will have their toll on these children. I am watching as all these unfold.
Gustav's trajectory offers an opportunity to assess the lessons learnt from Katrina and to evaluate the preparation and response to what is drumming up to be a major disaster producing event. I accept the position that it is the failure of the cultural protections that leads to disasters and that diasters are the result of interaction between these events and human vulnerabilities. Already, efforts are being made to evacuate early and the use the national guard to enforce the mandate. The federal government is on high alert. Chernoff has flown to New Orleans to assess the preparation. What ever happens the impact is already felt, the thousands how are now being displaced, separated from each other and their pets. At category 4, it is not sure how long before they come back home again. Schooling has been suspended and while children wait it out, precious school days are being lost with many children having to relive the trauma of this experience - chronic exposure to disaster producing events. New Orleans will have the resources to respond. Cuba and Haiti may not have these resources, given the kinds and levels of destruction being described as happened there as Gustav trekked its way to the Gulf Coast in the United States.
I expect New Orleans will do better, not because it needs to save face but because it has just experienced Katrina, three years ago, they know more now. Once Gustav has died down, it is necessary to make the transition for effective response. Roads will be blocked or destroyed. Telecommunications will be hampered - respond therefore is better handled locally; the organisational structure normally available to do business will not exist and so new ones without laws, money, need to be formed and so the goodwill of others, their patriotism and 'goodness of heart.'
For me it's finding the schools, locating where they are, assessing the damage or impacts and help to return to student learning as soon as possible. Preparation is crucial in reducing the impact. It is providing the following - security for important documents, locating and organizing critical functions - computer labs and libraries; identifying and securing curriculum materials, temporarily recruiting teachers and other personnel as volunteers since remuneration may not be available in the aftermath.
As this unfolds, the interest is to see how well the city and the state responds this time but this time Gustav may not behave like Katrina and today being Sunday, the roads may be clear to move north and those who do not have means of transportation are going it by train and public buses. I also hope that neighbors are taking neighbors along. Texas and neighboring states are accepting evacuees before rather than after. At least this lesson was learnt. We hope for the best and wish everyone well as we watch Gustav finally come to shore. He does not need a Visa
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Exits have to be clearly located and marked and one cannot assume that structures are strong enough to withstand quakes and therefore capable of protecting people. People are to be evacuated out of a building as soon as possible. In this case, I am pleased that all well that ends well.
A few weeks ago, I completed a GIS scenario of the Oxnard region, California focusing on the impact a tsunami would have had on educational facilities in the area. The scenario showed that about 30 school buildings would be inundated. Such information is essential as part of preparation and response in the event of a marine quake and resulting. The scenario also showed that several emergency facilities would so be inundated. The map serves as a useful tool for planning and future locations of the public facilities. Nothing trounces indigenous knowledge and this remains a vital part of the instinctive response to disasters. Indigenous knowledge was critical in the saving lives during the Indonesian Tsumani which killed thousands.
Monday, June 23, 2008
In the event of an emergency in any building or areas the best option is still evacuation and that should be done within one minute. This raises several issues related to building like schools and hospitals noted for mass occupancy: The need to design and build structures with safety as a key priority is essential. The height of some of these building as in the case of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and schools in China pose additional threats and increases the risk of collapse. They however, highlight the urgency with which evaluation should be pursued during an emergency or the unfolding of a disaster event. So here goes, this "sturdy table or chair does not work under twenty tons of concrete and I suspect when it was proposed, building were mostly wooden, single floor with low centers of gravity. Building structures have changed and it is time to rewrite the policy:
During an earthquake all school buildings must be cleared as quickly as possible. At best this should be accomplished within the first minute of the initial jolt. Residents should move to an open space, previously identified and clear of building, trees and other features likely to create or increase risk. Experience has shown that vibrations that precedes earthquake can be heard and the associated shaking tend to increase in intensity for the first few seconds before it peaks, providing a few crucial seconds for evacuation. During an earthquake time is measured in seconds or less and so people must react in seconds or less.
In the case of schools, each classroom shall be affixed with two doors and school floors with staircases or exists on either end of these floors particularly where they extend above two floors.
Monthly drills must be conducted in schools to ensure that with near instinctiveness students can assist in securing their safety given the few adults who may be present with them during an emergency or disaster.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Medical researchers may have a lesson or two to teach us. They conduct the research and the counter research and they make the findings available to the public so the public can make informed decison. The United States Geological Soceity (USGS) and the Army Core of Engineers being public organizations have a public responsibility to conduct the research on disaster risk and vulnerability and to provide the public with the information. In a region with a storied history of flooding, little should be taken for granted. By studying snow falls, rainfall figures and matching them against the age, percolation and infiltration levels in the levees one should be able to determine and doing so on a regular basis, the potential for damage. We may not be able to protect property but we can insure against damage. Using a credit union approach, communities can pool their resources for disaster response particlaury for those who are unable to aford the market costs of insurance.Communities must insure themselves against disaster. This requires a different thinking and approach: A shift from individual to community reponse not to the disaster but to the risk. It requires reduced dependence on federal bureaucratic response to increased local community response. It also requires a shift from regional disaster management aproaches to local community responsibility because in the end its the local communities that are affected and it they who have to pick up the pieces; they who have to reconstruct their lives despite the blame and finger pointing. When the cameras are turned off and the press goes home, it is the homeowners and city managers who are left to deal with the impact.
The approach is to protect one's self and one's community aganst the risk and the bottom line is this- once one lives on a flood place with levees and subsequebtly below the high flood mark, there is risk there. It may not be the same every where and no matter how small, it exists and even against that small risk, protection is essential. All that is required for a levee to break is small percolation, and overtime, water finds a way to percolate and infiltrate. Rates at which these occur have to be measured and the results made public. Where risk is present, those at risk have a right to know and to make decisions based on that knowledge.
Sadly, many will be left to put the pieces back together on their own. It is the nature of the social relations that we have nurtured and on which we have prided ourselves - "pulling yourself up by your own bootstrap." It continues to govern our relationships and modus operandi and in the end it seems even we may have to acquire our own knowledge to make our own decisions for what is a boot without straps.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Schools are buildings of mass occupancy. Large numbers of students and teachers occupy these buildings for at least five hours each day and at least nine months of the year. Often teachers can have as many as 60 students in one classrooms, particularly in developing countries - areas often hardly hit by hurricanes, typhoons, floods and earthquakes. This situation dramatically increases the risk and vunerabiities. Managing these students in these difficult situation with limited adults has not been affored the attention it deserves. An added risk is the construction and building codes which in the case of China appeared to be suspect and arguably tempered by not knowing the ages of these school buildings.
School buildings have also been known to be the most common means of shelter during disasters. In Dominica for example 75% of hurricane shelters are school plants. A large number of such shelters in Florida are also schools. It is essential then that more attention be paid to construction and building codes for schools. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Organisation of American States (OAS) have committed substantial resources throughout the Caribbean to retrofit and strengthen school buildings to ensure their safety as disaster shelters and centainly as institution of learning. By doing so, they ensure post-disaster education as well particular for those students at critical and transitional phases of their education.
Such attention to school plants require a place in the debates, discourse and literature on disasters and disaster management. Understanding how students are impacted beyond the pyschological and traumatic,an area in which the American Psychological Association (APA) has done substantial work is essential.
The National Clearinghouse for educational Facilities website http://www.edfacilities.org/checklist/index.cfm provides an excellent checklist with queries for assessing educational facilties as a precusor to making improvement to exisitng facilities or designing new ones. Central to the issues related to education facilities and disaster is the broad issue of child safety. Greater attention has to be paid to ensure children's safety during and after disasters and that generally, education takes palce in a safe environment.
Polices ans plans with regard to the use of schools as shelters and to esure smooth transitions from one function to the next does not exist and if it does, may be scant at best. School officials need to have clear blueprints on the approach to management of their school plants as eductional facilities and disaster shelters. This should formalize the relationship and increase the stake to ensure that school facilties meet the construction and building standards. This arragnement will represent a major step towards the often recommended colloboration among engineers, architects, local govenment, emergency and shelter managers and school officials as necessary for effective disaster management. In this way the children and their communties become winners.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
What were the school building codes like?
How soon after the first jolt did the school buildings collapse?
How knowledgeable were adminstrators, students and teachers about the risks and vulnerability of the area to earthquakes?
What did engineers, geologist an hazard managers know about these vulnerabilities?
What did decisionmakers and other community leaders know about the risks?
Did the schools have plans in the event of such disaster events?
What was the pupil-teacher ratio?
Were drills, simulations ever conducted?
What kinds of safety policies and procedures were in place to protect teachers and students for this eventuality?
How should the education sytem respond and how quickly can they return these schools to normalcy?
Did anyone walk out of these schools alive and how were they able to do that?
Were there adequate emergency exits in the building?
Should we re-think building heights for schools? or other buidlings of mass occupancy?
How do we prepare schools for these future eventualities?
Answers to these would not only help China but the rest of the world in better preparing schools for disaster events and reducing the vulnerabilities to these disasters.
Monday, May 12, 2008
How prepared are schools and school administrators for these kindsof disasters?
What plans are in or have been put in place to mitigate against these calamities?
How structurally sounds are the buildings in which children are schooled and what can be done to improve the safely of these structures?
How can rsileince be build in to school programs and structure to mitigate the impact of emergeincies and disasters?
The Unversity of Pittsburgh is at the forefornt of ensuring that there is advocacy and expert advise available to improve on the safety in schools as well as providing tool for mitgation of emergencies and disasters. Our pioneering work on GIS/GPS and emergencies in education is one way to provide information for evacuation of schools and response during disasters. The School of Education, Global Information Network in Education (GINIE) through its Help Desk stands ready to answer questions, queries and provide information and expert advice on emergency situations related to education.
As the frequency of disasters increase, we need to build greater resilience at the community level for disaster events can quickly paralyze communication and transport- two key sectors essential for response and rescue. Increasingly first responders must be community based, hopsitals and other treatment centers must be local or established locally. Children must be taught not only about disasters but for disasters. Students need to be sensitized, irrespective of age, to the impact of disaster and how to make themselves safe. The situation in China underscores the urgent need to pursue this approach; an education in disasters but also for disasters. Our work with USAID can be used as a benchmark for retrofitting school building for example. Conducting persistent drills that go beyond fires is another example.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Yesterday, April 9, we held wonderful ceremony in the School of Education, Pitt, to honor and remember one of our fallen lecturers Professor Emeritus Rolland Paulston, who died from leukemia two years ago. What a tremendous experience it was as past students and his colleagues tell their stories about him and their interaction with him. We had asked for students with stories who could not make it to send them in , We had stories from China, Finland, Dominica, Nigeria, South Africa, and all over the US. It demonstrated the power of the influence of a teacher and reminds me that teachers should never take their jobs lightly and its not about the money. It's about influencing lives. There were real tears from students who did not get to say goodbye and who recalled the unflinching support he gave during their dissertations. He loved students voices. He always wanted our points of view on what we read and discussed and he was the master social cartographer. He mapped ideas, thoughts, discourses and debates and in so doing he mapped minds and that is why he became a master at shaping them. He knew them and so he knew how to make them. Yesterday, you should have seen those minds he shaped. As a policy analyst, meta-discursive mapping became useful as I trying to develop options for responding to policy problems in education, understanding first, the thinking and ideas of policy makers. Once I approximated these, it became easy to structure my approach in sync with their ideas and thoughts. It worked every time - seeing the world thought the eye of others and with other text. Simple but he made it powerful. I was pleased to know that his work is being taught in Harvard and UCLA. That says something about Pitt, doesn't it (this is me, gloating). Dr. MCClure reminded me "he was influential because he was compassionate" This is what every student needs "a teacher with compassion." He taught me during his final semester prior to retirement in 1999 and I said to him, that "he would never really retire because parts of him that he had passed on to his students would remain to be passed on to generations and so who is and what he stood for will live on. It was like Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, 1986 said, " I touch the future, I teach."
Safety is important and things fall apart when we are not precautions. We think it may not happen to us until it does and hindsight is always 20/20. Good job to the alert team but alerts work best when people cooperate and collaborate. Sign up for an alert. It may just save your life and that of your friends, colleagues and lecturers. This one came home to me. I was happy the way it came and I remain aware that it does not always come in ways that make one happy. Sign up for an alert... NOW
Friday, April 4, 2008
Last night there was a fatal fire in which a mother, a family friend living with them and their eight children and grand children died. Their gas had been turned off since 2005. They could not pay for it and according to the news report, they used space heating to stay warm. It has not been confirmed but the speculation is that it may have set the house ablaze while they slept. This seems like a simple mishap but the news item showed a pattern of these disasters occurring because utilities are turned off when people cannot pay. A situation made worse since the law was changed. I think of the eight children and the one little body who described the hard time one of them had been having at school and that nobody was nice to him. A child should never have to walk away feeling ostracised. Our schools need to become gentle, kinder places. We need to purposely seek out the hurting ones, the ones on the fringes of our institutions and reassure them that the world is not a bad place. After all Children still learn what they live. They give us what we give them. And please do not think I am about to set up a child rights movement. I want only a child caring movement because every small human being deserves to be loved, cared for and to feel wanted and appreciated. When home is not what it should be, for every child a school should be a soft place to fall. I am sure you feel that way. Children need us to teach them how to become adults. This is probably the best learning we will ever provide. The worse kind of disaster is to wake up and find the next generation never learnt to care for each other because we never "showed" them how to care.
Monday, March 31, 2008
I am writing a paper, publishable, I hope. My professor believes I should think of it, seriously. Its about Education and HIV/AIDS in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The purpose is to identify the impact of the disease on the education system in Nicaragua and Costa Rica as comparatives.
I am discovering that the education related data just isn't there. Where it is, it is hidden in data on adult. Little is said about the children - inflicted or orphaned. The data presented is mostly about women, gathered from testing them during pregnancy and feminizing the disease in the process. If this is when they are tested and it forms the major data source, what happened to the babies? Did they get the disease? Were they treated in time to protect them? Were the therapies even available? If they were could the parents afford them or were they free? This is were poverty and HIV/AIDS become a deadly mix. To know it is available yet inaccessible is the hallmark of being poor. Its like higher education for minorities. Not being able to protect the next generation from disease and death, often not of their own making is indictable and everything we learnt about sustainability goes out with the baby bath.
The chilling tales of street children and HIV/AIDS in some of these third world cities are still waiting to be told. Maybe, just maybe if children could vote or work; if only they had a voice; if only they we not so vulnerable, we would think twice about their welfare and how our follies affect them and their education. Education may be for many their only hope for a "voice"
Friday, March 28, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Thursday, January 31, 2008
I got to speaking with my advisor about it a few days ago and we struct a conversation that surrounded the "place, status and voice" of the child in school and communities, the perception we hold about children and the many things we do to let children know their "places". Someone said, "We spend two years teaching our children to speak and the rest of their lives asking them to shut up."
Recently, we conducted an OECS study on school disciplinary issues and we asked teachers how many of them would use a loving and caring relationship to deal with student disciplinary problems and only 8% said they would. It confirmed what I always knew. It can be a cold world for many children.
I need to hear your stories or comments about your life at school, especially if you had a tough time there. Understanding this issue would help us deal with an a potential emergency in education: school violence
Please share your stories and blog on
See you online
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
There are no universities back there offering my area and you know the price of higher ed. and so I have to follow the $$$ - scholarships, fellowships or whatever they call it these days.
Which leads me to why I am here - Emergencies in Education - natural disasters (Katrina, remember), Man-made disasters (chronic poverty), Schools as safe places, Violence in schools. School was what pulled me out from where I was and what statistics said I should have become. I want to work to make sure that we can preserve it for generations to come.
Education changes a life and its direction like few things can. So this is why I leave my family but I call them every day and I speak to each one most everyday and our 8 year old said, "We talk with you every day. It's like you are still here." Well, I know you are thinking it's not the same. At least, give a guy some points for trying. I miss them and its tough but we have to do what we have to do. I love them and I love education too. After all "A mind is a terrible thing to make."
Now you know where I am coming from.