The school bracing for a second disappearance under the sea

Residents of Fuveme, an island squeezed between the Keta Lagoon and the Gulf of Guinea, are counting their days.

They have counted their losses long enough to know that it is only a matter of time.

It may be soon. It may be later. But it will eventually arrive. If nothing is done.

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Four years ago, Selorm Dzaka and his classmates would have dashed into the belly of the only remaining legacy of the Catholic Church on the tiny island—the Fuveme RC Basic School—to seek refuge from the rains.

But not this time.

Not even its concrete walls can be traced. The sea, the vicious sea, brought it down and swallowed its debris.

“The sea had been inching closer and closer every year until 2016 when water began to enter the building, and eventually the walls broke down,” the headmaster, Cornelius Adzido, recalled. The incident caused the relocation of the school to about 500 metres away from its old site.

When this reporter visited Fuveme in 2016, the community was praying and hoping for a sea defence wall.

It was not built. The 2.8-kilometre Atorkor sea defence project was expected to cushion some coastal communities in the then Keta Municipality (now Anloga District) against destructive tidal waves. But the construction didn’t progress beyond Akplorwotorkor.

It meant Fuveme was left exposed. Over the years, the waves have pounded the village (Fuveme), causing extensive damage to property, including homes and churches, and sometimes cutting the inhabitants off from the rest of the district.

A large section of the fishing community has been reduced to a pile of rubble as the advancing tidal waves turbocharged by climate change continue to inch closer. It created a new estuary in May 2021.

According to experts, rising sea levels linked to the melting of polar ice caps is causing coastal erosion, which slowly submerges communities along the coast.

So, the Fuveme RC Basic School became a victim of an imperial ocean claiming territories. It is an occurrence climate change experts blame on human activities such as sand winning and deforestation as well as natural causes such as wind, water and other forces.

Five years ago, the school had trees around it. But as the sea moved closer, it mowed them down. As the situation got worse, the sea began to flood the compound and the classrooms with its debris. By August 2016, the classrooms collapsed, leaving teachers and students stranded.

Months after the old school disappeared under the ocean, the Anloga District Assembly and the community mobilised and built a new one.

But far from the relative beauty of the destroyed structure, the current one looks like a market shed. Overlooking the ocean, the new Fuveme RC Basic School stands like a helpless and desolate memorial awaiting another violent end.

The school has a population of more than 200 pupils. It is just a few metres away from the shore. Its management, teachers and pupils are constantly reminded of the danger creeping closer.

The headmaster, Cornelius Adzido, (right) of the school in a chat with The Fourth Estate journalist, Seth J. Bokpe. Behind the headmaster is the JHS classrooms and the sea      Photo: Clement E. Kumsa

“The school is about 150 metres [from the sea]. I don’t know how it will happen in the future. The fear is that if it [the sea] takes this school away, there will be no school in this community,” the headmaster said of the predictable end of the school.

“The children will have to move far away to other places. The whole community will be deserted. Our prayer is for the school to be protected so that it can help the people in the community,” he added.

But there are other problems too.

Classrooms from Primary One to Six are windowless and the doors are made of palm fronds.  They are empty except for a few desks scattered across and are complemented by kitchen stools and tables the pupils bring from home.

Coconut frond is the closest the school has to getting a door for its classrooms Photo: Clement E. Kumsah

However, another classroom has been packed with desks, awaiting the completion of a new school block, just behind the six-classroom block.

The floors in the primary classrooms are cemented, a luxury their senior counterparts in the junior high school (JSH) could only wish for.

The JHS classrooms were constructed from corrugated iron sheets and the floor is as bare as the seashore.

The JHS classrooms were built from iron sheets and the floors are bare. Photo: Clement E. Kumsah

A new classroom block is under construction, but the contractor was not at the site when The Fourth Estate visited the school in July.

A student who declined to give his name said the classroom could sometimes be extremely hot on sunny days and when the rain comes with a storm, school comes to a sudden end.

“When it is raining, our classroom is not protected from the rain. Rain enters it and gets us wet, so we close early,” he said.

The headmaster’s office is no different from the JHS block. Occasionally, domestic animals walk in and out of the office.

The headmaster’s refuse

But that is the least of the concerns of the headmaster. The school has even bigger problems that are undermining academic work.

“We are facing a lot of problems. We are also suffering from a furniture shortage. We don’t have any toilet facility in the school,” he said.

He added: “We have challenges with teachers. I don’t know whether they tag the school a deprived school that is why teachers are not coming. In the whole of the primary [section], we have only two teachers and in KG, we have only one teacher. The JHS form one to three, we have two teachers, so we have a staffing problem here,” Mr  Adzido lamented.

The inadequate staff of the school had taken its toll on the school’s academic performance, he said.

While declining to go into the figures, he said Form Three students who wrote last year’s Basic Education Certificate Examination (B.E.C.E.) flunked it.

“Formerly, the JHS pupils were doing well because the teachers were with them. Last year, they couldn’t perform well because they had only two teachers with them.”

The school, he added, had in the past produced students for some secondary schools in the Volta Region, including Keta Secondary Technical School, Anloga Senior High School and Sogakope Senior High School.

To find a solution to the situation at the Primary level, Mr Adzido said the classes had been combined. Primary One and Two pupils share the same classroom and teacher. So do their peers in Primary Three and Four,  as well as those in Five and Six.

It’s Mathematics time Photo: Clement E. Kumsah

The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) chairman of the school, Jacob Afetorgbor, who has spent almost his entire 41 years on the shrinking patch of land situated between the sea and the Keta lagoon, said the community was helpless.

According to him, the community had resettled at least four times since 1993 when visible signs of sea erosion began to take its toll on Fuveme.

“It is heart-breaking that nothing much has been done to stop the sea from taking over our land. The future of our children depends on their education, but we are not even sure if this structure will be here for another 10 years,” he said, clasping his hands around his neck.

Anloga District Assembly

When contacted, the Anloga District Coordinating Director, Emmanuel Dzakpasu, told The Fourth Estate that while the construction of a sea defence wall at Fuveme was beyond the financial muscle of the assembly, it was engaging the Ministry of Works and Housing for the minister to visit the area and assess the dangers facing such communities.

On the inadequate desks and teachers, he said the assembly would work with the district directorate of education to ensure that the packed desks were released to the pupils while efforts were made to assess the teacher needs of the school.

As conversations about the fate of the school go on, residents of Fuveme are anticipating that decision-makers will roll out their mitigation plan early enough to tame the ocean and save their land and school.

They can only hope.

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