Emma Marsan & Jerelle Mahadeo
On August 21st 2018, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake lasting for approximately a minute shook the twin-island nation Trinidad and Tobago.
Holy Name Convent suffered a great amount of damage due to this occurrence. None of the rooms on the second floor of the main block could be used, such as the Staffroom, the Form 2 to 5 classrooms and the Language Lab. Certain areas in the Form 6 block were affected as well, for example, the Music Room, Art Room, Geography Room, and some other classrooms. This, therefore, resulted in many classes being displaced and having to be relocated. To give some minor insight of some of the struggles the students and teachers had to face, students had classes conducted in the chapel and the Form 6’s had to leave the school compound with their respective teachers and walk to Princess Court, just in order to have a place to be taught.
Just in time for the new academic year, however, the school has finally been restored to its former glory. The process of shifting from one area to another for about a year has finally concluded for both the teachers as well as the students.
Holy Name Convent’s acting principal, Miss Khan, was asked to provide some insight on how the school was able to get up and running again, as well as to share any thoughts and untold stories.
- Were there any additional improvements you would have liked to make to the school?
There were many other improvements she would have liked for the school; fixing the music room, outstanding work repairs outside of the staffroom, and getting rid of the nesting pigeons. She would have also liked to paint the back of the school; the places in which the students do not normally see.
- How did you feel about student involvement with construction and aiding in the school getting back in shape?
The students were not necessarily involved with the construction; it was done by the Ministry of Education, MTS and the contractor Ricky Raghunan Limited. There could not have been much student involvement, however concerning getting the school back in order and so on, they had a very good team of children who came out during the holidays. They worked nonstop, going way beyond the call of duty and what they would have expected of them; she was very impressed.
- How did you think the students coped regarding the shifting of classes?
She thought that the students coped well with the shifting of classes. There were one or two people who would have complained about getting wet and complained to their parents about having nowhere to eat lunch. But for the most part, the students were resilient.
- What were your initial thoughts/how did you feel when you heard about what had happened to the school?
“The memory of first hearing the news of the school’s damage is a painful one to look back on,” she sighed. She felt with each succeeding area that was condemned, her heart sank more and more. It was frightening and disheartening, and she began to wonder what to do. Thankfully, their faith in God would not let them flounder and it would carry them through. They did not even know how they would be able to open the school and where to put everyone. She said that God is good. The sewing room and prep school greatly helped them out by lending them space to conduct classes. When they got past the initial dismay and prayed, God revealed that maybe they could do this or that. Thankfully, with the help of the staff for brainstorming areas to use, they were a lot more hopeful.
- What are some experiences/things that occurred that the students are unaware of?
There were challenges in the logistics, and every area presented a problem. They had to then find a new place for the students. They would be able to guarantee that the students were taught, but not to their comfort. Getting partitions for the classes was a problem. Electrical cords were also a problem. Children were moving from place to place for class, and it was during the rainy season. They were sent to the Chapel for classes as well. Making sure the normal run of the day went smoothly was a challenge. It was extremely difficult to get a response from the Ministry of Education and dealing with the stakeholder s; the parents, students, and teachers. They thought, “Is this something we could do on our own?” Dealing with speculation and people’s comments were a challenge, but everything ended up working out, she said.
During the dry season, in April, the roofs of the North and South blocks were being taken down, as the weather had been bright and sunny for the past couple of days. The day they stripped the last sheeting off, the rain came down. The water had become black and it flooded down the stairs and into the staffroom. Sister Renée and Miss Khan heard the water due to a loud gushing sound and so they thought, “What is that?” They then thought, “Lord, what are you telling us?” Miss Khan and Sister Renée had to clean and sweep up the water by themselves. They got the roof covered in the end.
- Who would you like to thank?
She thanks everybody for helping them. She says, “We know a lot of people stood in our corner”. She wants to thank the Ministry of Education for responding to their plight. She wants to thank the people who worked on the roof; there was a commitment on their part to get everything done. She wants to thank John Gonzales, the unofficial project manager. He took the job on his retirement with no salary and came every weekday and weekend. He spoke to the workmen for them, kept reassuring them, communicated with them via email and letter with the consultant and project. This one person did all of that with them and for them. They would have gone bankrupt if they had to pay for his contributions. “It was an example of how good God is to us,” Sister Renée was very diligent in creating a spiritual atmosphere. Every sheet of wood was blessed with holy water. The people who came respected what we were for. She wants to thank the parents and teachers who put up with the conditions created by the displacement. She wants to thank the people who helped for the entire year. She wants to thank anyone who contributed in any way, such as calling in and praying for us. She wants to thank the children for their faith and resilience. She wants to thank Mr. Saloom as well for spearheading the restoration over the holidays, and Debra De Souza who helped clear things up.