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Education

After a Cyclone, ‘Schools in a Box’ Are Helping Kids Get an Education in Tonga

After a massive cyclone shut down schools around Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu in February, teachers, community members, and aid agencies are getting creative to make sure kids continue to get an education.

But they’re still thinking inside the box.

That’s because UNICEF has provided teachers with a “school-in-a-box,” a container full of the supplies necessary to teach a class of forty students.

"The teacher will be able to open this box, he or she will have a blackboard to write on, there will be pencils, pens, everything you would expect in a normal classroom and that will allow the lessons to continue," UNICEF spokesperson Cate Heinrich told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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Last month, Tropical Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga, destroying homes and schools, flooding streets, and cutting off electricity throughout the archipelago nation. On Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island with a population of more than 75,000 people, the cyclone has disrupted life for more than 70% of residents.

Read More: 12 Natural Disasters That Broke Our Hearts in 2017

The school-in-a-box has become an integral part of UNICEF’s emergency response program. In addition to containing traditional school supplies like writing utensils and notebooks and a solar radio, the lid of each aluminum box can turn into a blackboard.

Tonga isn’t the only place where devastating natural disasters have leveled infrastructure and prevented kids from going to school.

In 2015, more than 19 million people were displaced by natural disasters, according to UNESCO. And, the organization reports, climate-change fueled disasters and sea-level rise from global warming will increase the number of children forced out of school. Experts say it is vital for children to resume normal daily activities, including attending school, as soon as possible to help them recover emotionally after a disaster.

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Read More: Why School Cannot Stop When an Earthquake Hits

But in the face of such devastation, communities around Tongatapu have come together to rebuild schools and infrastructure. And their efforts ensure children can get to school and re-establish normal patterns of daily life.

"The whole community is working towards cleaning up all the schools," said Ministry of Education Deputy Director Isikeli Oko. "We've encouraged them that we are stronger than Gita [and] we can move forward."