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From the Ashes of Conflict: ZNHS-West Shines Again

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As the dusts of war settle down following a month-long struggle to keep the peace in the city, the Zamboanga National High School – West is now back on its tracks in its mandate of providing quality education.

Even before the conflict, ZNHS-West is considered as one of the best public secondary schools in the city, fulfilling the right to quality education of more than 6,000 students, based on last year’s enrolment alone. Aside from the basic educational amenities that the school has to offer, it is also a model institution in terms of orderliness in its management, cleanliness and sanitation. In fact, under the leadership of Secondary School Principal IV Henry A. Ongchua, ZNHS-West has been conferred with the honour of being a Brigada Eskwela hall-of-famer for three consecutive years.

However, due to the post-conflict IDP situation, the school has suffered much devastation.

Although the school was not directly affected by the immediate fires of war, it has nevertheless bore the brunt of the conflict as it made itself available for the assistance of internally displaced individuals and families. According to the schools focal person on IDP issues Teresita C. Carbonilla, at the height of its service as an evacuation centre, ZNHS-West was home to 989 families or more than 10,000 individuals from the conflict affected areas.

As in any displacement situation around the world, may it be due to man-made conflicts or natural disasters, the IDP situation in the city, only seem to worsen as days are overtaken by weeks, and weeks overtaken by months. Over the period of ZNHS-West’s hosting of a sizable IDP population, much has been learned.

First, the basic needs of IDP families are barely met; owing to the temporary nature of their stay, activities and needs of daily living are reduced to a thin minimum, especially in terms of sanitation. While schools such as the ZNHS-West are readily available to be utilized as evacuation centres for the service of the people, it must be admitted that the infrastructure that educational institutions can provide when used for a purpose other than what it is intended for, will not answer the need adequately. Educational institutions are designed for learning, not for residence per se.

Secondly, worth mentioning is its effect on the student’s right to education. Students are themselves displaced as conflict-displaced persons are accommodated in the schools. Classes are suspended or are held in different places such as covered courts; students attend classes in schools other than their own, and, sadly, others might even give up going to school altogether. In its effort to fill up the gaps, the Department of Education has devised creative ways on how to adapt with the situation. A student tracking mechanism was then put in place and utilized at a daily basis.

From the lessons learned and experiences gained, we feel that changes in the way we respond the situations of pressing importance must be made at the policy level. While we all know that educational facilities are generally spared from the more direct effects of armed conflicts, there must be better alternatives other allowing these facilities to bear its less direct effects.

Today, nearly three quarters of a year following the end of hostilities, and barely a few months after the last IDP families were transferred from ZNHS-West; the school has quickly retraced its tracks towards recovery. The sight of structural damages repaired, the bliss of gardens brought back to life, and the start of a new school year which has seen an increase in the number of enrolees – all these are signs that, from the ashes of conflict, Zamboanga National High School – West shines again!




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