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A second wave is on, but the classroom door stays open

The big question Nigerians are having to answer is how to keep children safe in school.

The lockdown against coronavirus has been severe, and easing of restrictions to guard against the spread of the virus has been troubled.

As the country goes through a phase of reopening and restoring livelihoods, the new reality has emerged of a second wave of the pandemic.

It comes as new cases of coronavirus infections, which had earlier levelled off, began tipping up a second time.

It also comes at a time when businesses and places of worship had to reopen—and children who had been locked out of school for months, nearly losing an entire academic year, had to return to the classroom.

The big question Nigerians are having to answer is how to keep children safe in school.

What schools need are facilities for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), according to a needs assessment

How will social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and all the other restrictions be introduced to help check the spread of COVID-19, and to be maintained in a school, an environment where children typically spend nearly half a day together, five days a week?

What students need to stay in school

What schools need are facilities for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), according to a needs assessment by the Victims Support Fund’s Taskforce on COVID-19.

Three schools in Enugu in late March were among the latest schools to receive a consignment of facilities for water, sanitation and hygiene: Girls Secondary School, Ngwo; Boys Secondary School, Agbani; and Community Secondary School, Ugbene Ajima.

Each school got a solar-powered borehole, four hand wash stations, 2,000 reusable face masks, 20 litres of hand sanitiser, 120 bottles of 500ml handwash, and five cartons of bleach.

The VSF chairman Gen TY Danjuma (rtd) had in March last year set up a taskforce on COVID-19 to facilitate the intervention.

As the country eases back into a semblance of normalcy, such donations have become necessary for life in the new normal.

Providing the materials needed to restrict the spread of COVID-19 in schools is a mandate VSF has taken up. It has a mandate to provide the materials across a total 54 schools in 18 states.

At the Government Secondary School, Federe in Plateau, the taskforce hands over Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) projects, including a solar-powered borehole

Enugu’s commissioner for education, Uche Eze, received the donated items from Sunday Oibe and Alkasim Abdulkadir, members of the VSF Task Force on COVID-19 chaired by Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji in a symbolic handover.

Eze commended the fund for its “kind gesture” and said the state would ensure the facilities were “protected and maintained”.

From north east concerns to hygiene

So far the donations have gone to three schools each in Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Kaduna, Jigawa, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Nasarawa, Abia, Bauchi, Kebbi, Bayelsa, Edo, Borno, Taraba and the FCT.

It is the third phase of the task force’s distribution of food items and personal protective equipment, costing approximately N1 billion in a marked expansion of the VSF’s mandate from focusing on internally displaced persons and victims of disasters to other vulnerable communities in other parts of the country beyond the northeast.

In its larger distribution, each state gets 10,000 bottles of 250ml hand sanitisers, 5,000 standard face mask, 20,000 reusable face masks as well as a minimum of 1,174 each of hazmat suits, goggles, pairs of boots and pairs of latex gloves.

Bare neccessities

Beyond schools and their needs to observe prescribed restrictions, food items have gone to vulnerable communities in respective states to help them combat hunger – with an average of 5,000 households in each of the 19 states across the six regions of the country receiving food palliatives of 10kg of rice, 10kg beans, 10kg maize, 4-litre container of oil and 2kg of salt.

It is the protective equipment that have been most elevating for schools as they continue to navigate the vagaries of keeping children safe, preventing spread of coronavirus and teaching children with the prospect of new restrictions and possible lockdowns constantly hanging in the air.

Yusuf Usman is the chairman of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) at Government Junior Secondary School, NAF Base in Kaduna. He met the donation presented to the school on behalf of parents of the school.

“We really, deeply appreciate it,” he said. “You do your search [for schools in need] without lobbying. If it were lobbying, we are nobody. We thank the coordinators for the exercise,” he said on the day the school took delivery of the donations.

Student uses handwash station at Community Security School, Mbaukwu

A similar donation in Oyo has been made to communities in which the three chosen schools are located, especially the solar-powered borehole.

“We will make judicious use of this water to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it will be beneficial to the surrounding community,” said Amina Atere, permanent secretary of Oyo State Education Ministry at the handover of WASH facilities to schools in the state.

She officially opened the borehole in February. For accountability and visibility, the items were handed over to the state’s department for planning, research and statistics.

“Research shows Oyo is viable for the donation,” said Akerele-Ogunsiji.

“We want the world to see the faces of people who receive these items on the side of the school. When they are holding the VSF accountable, they are also holding you accountable on the side of the school.”