Storm shuts down United Methodist schools in Sierra Leone

Normal school activities in two United Methodist schools in Bo have been suspended following a severe storm June 6 that destroyed many properties throughout the city.

The United Methodist Church’s Njagboima primary and secondary schools share the same compound with Rogers Memorial United Methodist Church. All three institutions were affected by the heavy storm, which hit between 7 and 8 p.m.

“The storm seemed to be coming from underground and violently throwing things upward. We could see a lot of usually heavy materials flying in the air,” said Patrick Dimoh, head teacher of the Njagboima upper primary school, which houses grades 4-6.

The roofs of seven out of the 11 classrooms were blown off.

“Apart from our own schools, eight other schools were also badly damaged. Almost all the houses on Tikonko Road here in the neighborhood were damaged. We have not had electricity in the whole town for three days now because electric poles fell and the cables were destroyed,” he said.

“We are fortunate that only our roofs flew away. Other buildings collapsed.”

The children reported for school the following day only to be told to return home as school authorities made makeshift arrangements to secure property and hire people to clean up.

“We have been running around the community to collect some of the roofing items that were blown away — the boards, zinc and just any of the blown-away items we think we might need in the meantime while efforts are being made to get resources to do a proper rehabilitation,” Dimoh said, adding that even his office roof was blown away.

The disaster occurred in the eighth week of the academic term when the administration was preparing for promotional exams scheduled for the 10th week.

“Our school calendar has now been abruptly obstructed. We cannot continue to run an effective school given the circumstances; hence we sent the children away,” he said.

The Bo Kenema Power Service — the electricity corporation that supplies power to the city — had been announcing on radio and TV that efforts were being made to restore electricity but power had not returned three days after the disaster, implying the extent of damage to the city’s infrastructure was massive, said Dimoh.

“We are thinking of securing temporary covers just so that we can have the children come and take their exams. But no permanent solution is in sight as of now because as we speak, the rain is threatening — the sky is dark,” he said.

Asked about immediate plans to address the situation, Josephus Allieu, head teacher of Njagboima’s lower primary school, which houses grades 1-3, said, “We are trying to solicit support from philanthropist organizations to make some ad hoc arrangements just so that the children can take their exams while a permanent solution is sought. Should that not work, we are looking forward to United Methodist authorities for help because we do not have funds on our own for such emergencies.”

Allieu also said extending the school year may be considered to cover for lost time for school repairs if the education ministry approves. For now, school authorities are shifting chairs, benches and desks and securing them in classes that were not affected so that they don’t rot away in the rain.

“The children were very shocked Thursday when they reported for school and saw the extent of damage. Some showed disappointment that they had to be sent away. Even today, some came around to probably see what was being done to get them back to school as quickly as possible,” Allieu said.

About 70 percent to 80 percent of the classrooms that the children in the Njagboima secondary school use daily were affected, said Andrew Kamara, acting principal.

Roofs blew off and the classrooms were flooded. School authorities were relocating furniture and teaching equipment from the affected classes.

“The level of damage is so high that we cannot handle it immediately,” Kamara said.

Resident Bishop John Yambasu visited the campus two days after the storm. He said he was shocked to note that only the computer building of the secondary school survived the disaster, “probably because it was built recently meeting modern engineering standards, unlike the others that were done over 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

“We have seen storm disasters in the past. But this particular one is unprecedented,” Yambasu said.

The ministry of education is taking stock of the level of damage done to schools and other institutions of learning. But Kamara is not sure when any action that would allow the children to return to normal school life would commence. Peter Abdulai, inspector of schools, visited and took records and promised to get back to school authorities.

“We were preparing for their second and final assessment for this term. But with this level of damage and the suspension of school activities, it is going to affect the teaching and learning process seriously. Hence, we may have to revisit that calendar. If the second examination is not taken, we’d have to assess the children based on the work they have done already; implying the syllabuses will not be covered,” Kamara said.

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to thefree Daily or Weekly Digests.

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