Singing for safety
Increasing resilience to disaster in the Pacific
“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.” — Pope Francis
Now our children and their parents know what to do, they are more confident. Singing has given them hope that when the floods come, everything will be okay."Martina
Martina lives in the Solomon Islands. She is a teacher at Bishop Epalle Catholic School in Nggosi, West Honiara. She loves to teach, and her small classroom rings daily with the sounds of her students’ eager voices, often raised in song. “My students love to sing,” says Martina.
But, while the classroom is a place of learning and laughter, the world outside can be far less stable. In the Solomon Islands, our changing climate means that sea levels are rising, increasing the impact of storm surges and coastal flooding. Tropical cyclones are projected to become more intense, and the weather will become more extreme, with more heavy rainfall days and more very hot days expected.
“Our homes are under threat from landslides and cyclones,” says Martina.
The Solomon Islands also experience tsunamis. In 2013, a powerful earthquake on Ghizo island in the north-west of the Solomons triggered a tsunami that swept away many homes. Several people were reported missing. Every year, the Islanders’ safety is under threat during the six-month cyclone season.
Calming the children’s fears
For the children, these extreme weather events and other natural hazards can be overwhelming. At times, they have felt fearful and insecure on their way to school. Disasters commonly occur in the mornings, when the children may be walking or travelling alone.
The community began developing strategies to help its children, working with Caritas Australia’s Solomon Islands staff. From this collaboration a holistic program emerged, to increase resilience to disaster.
‘Singing our way to safety’
A program was created to promote safe behaviours for children during natural disasters. In this program, nursery rhymes and other popular rhymes are adapted to break down the fear associated with natural disasters.
With these songs, teachers help their students to identify the types of risks present in their community, and the warning signs for tsunamis, cyclones and landslides. The songs contain clear messages on whom to listen to, what to do, and where to go when disaster strikes.
Martina’s students have learnt four songs, including the “Flood Song”, which is sung to the tune of “This is the Day that the Lord has Made”. The song gives simple advice for effectively avoiding danger:
“When the river floods If we stay we’ll drown We must run away Up to the hill and the mountain top.”
Teachers and students create the song themselves. Using well-known tunes, they write new lyrics that describe what to do if disaster strikes. Martina and her students sing about the natural disasters that usually happen in the Solomon Islands: “I write up the words based on what shall we do — I choose a few common [songs] that the kids can remember.” Her students’ favourite song is the tsunami nursery rhyme, sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”.
“Run up to the mountain top Run and run and run Teacher students don’t you stop You must reach the top.”
Working in harmony
Caritas Australia runs workshops to train teachers in the Solomons on risk management planning. Teachers provide material for nursery rhyme workbooks, and risk management strategies are developed collaboratively.
This partnership between local officials and their communities means that emergency procedures can be taught through local languages and customs, and reflect national policy. Teacher training and curriculum materials are developed with the knowledge and support of the Ministry of Education and the National Disaster Management Office.
The joy of song
Martina has seen many benefits of the program for her students. The students enjoy learning the songs, and the movements that accompany them. “The songs help children memorise the emergency response,” she said.
The program is based on group singing, and this has an added benefit. Group singing is known as a valuable coping strategy for people enduring challenging times.
Through their learning, Martina’s students have taught many others safe behaviours for managing disasters. The impact of this program is also evident among the children’s peers, families and neighbours.
Martina recalls: “It happened that during a weekends an earthquake shook. On Monday when we came back to school I asked my students what happened on Saturday afternoon and they told me there was an earthquake and they used the nursery rhyme based on the earthquake. One of my students told me that the nursery rhyme that I taught was really helpful for their family.”
Singing its praises
The education program has been recognised internationally for its ability to help communities prepare for natural disasters. In 2014, it received the inaugural Pacific Innovation and Leadership Award for Resilience from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction. This award recognises innovative approaches to disaster risk reduction in the Pacific.
While this recognition is a reward in itself, the greatest reward is the community’s increasing sense of resilience. A community vulnerable to the impacts of climate change is finding its own solutions. Martina has observed that, as her community becomes increasingly effective at protecting itself, it is facing its future with growing confidence and strength.
“Now our children and their parents know what to do, they are more confident. Singing has given them hope that when the floods come, everything will be okay.”
With support from the Australian Government, Caritas Australia has expanded the program’s reach to other areas. It was developed in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and is also being carried out in Tonga.
When Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in March 2015, families faced the onslaught of wind and water with greater confidence. Using the safe practices learnt through the rhymes, they sang their way to safety.
This program relies on strong partnerships in the community. Everyone is responsible for minimising the risk of disasters in a community, from teachers and children and their parents to the National Disaster Management Office.”Mary Malagela, Solomon Islands program officer