On September 21, two days after the La Palma volcano exploded, Mónica Viña, director of the La Laguna public school, commented on WhatsApp about the inclemency of the volcano with the houses: “This is how they fall, like paper houses. It is very sad”. Three days later, he gave a new part. “It has entered an explosive phase with an expansive wave of kilometers, they ask us to be careful with the crystals.” At that time, classes had already been suspended and little by little the lava tongue was taking a new direction; seemed to line up the school. “We have just emptied our school,” he wrote on the 12th. “Now we are out of place, but we have to continue.” This Wednesday the worst forecast was confirmed: the magma – more than three meters high – knocked on the main access door to the center.
They all know what they have lost. CEIP La Laguna, in the most agricultural part of Los Llanos de Aridane – one of the three towns affected by the volcano – was the closest thing to a rural school. There, all the classrooms were on one floor, within small blocks that communicated with open-air corridors, like a miniature town. In the background, you could see the mountains and banana trees. It was the island’s benchmark for educational innovation, especially for its emotional education project – a compulsory subject in the Canary Islands since 2014.
Since this Wednesday they are in a new space assigned to them by the City Council, a modern two-story building that in six days they have transformed into a school, with everything they could rescue from the old one in the two and a half hours they were given to empty it. “Look, the lava is already there,” says Viña in a low voice, while showing an image taken by the emergency teams in which she can see how a black mountain of fire is about to engulf her old center, of which she is director from more than 20 years ago. On this first day of class, no one wants to speak aloud about the subject, but all the teachers are aware of it.
The children are touched. Four-year-old Amaya walks around the classroom with a white sheep that she doesn’t want to let go of. It is the only thing he could take from his home before he disappeared under the lava. Lucas, another 11-year-old boy with learning disabilities, has burst into tears several times. “He is very sensitive, more than the others, and he is very disturbed, the volcano scares him and his parents took him to the other end of the island, but now he has returned and he has to assimilate all this,” says his tutor. Throughout the morning, other students collapse and leave the classroom accompanied by one of the teachers. It takes a lot of dialogue, they have to digest what they have lived through. “That boy’s family lost their crops with the summer fire and now his house … he says he can’t smile, that every time he does something bad happens,” says a tutor. This first week the priority is to help them overcome the trauma.
For six days, the 19 teachers at the center have worked up to 12 hours a day to make students feel at home. The welcome murals of the course were torn from the old center, which they have replaced. Along with all the furniture, the library and the toys that are already familiar to them, they have decorated the walls with posters that want to sneak into the children’s subconscious: fear, anger, disappointment, hope … “They are small and still do not drive the vocabulary to express themselves, we are going to help them and next week we will see if we will return to mathematics ”, says Beatriz, one of the teachers.
It is recess time and the director receives a message from a mother: “I’m so sorry, Monica.” The reading is clear, the lava penetrates the center. His eyes are cloudy, but he quickly gets up and goes to the door to receive a student who has arrived later. “My handsome boy, I missed you a lot,” she says while hugging him tightly and giving him a kiss on the top of his head. “These days the covid protocol cannot be complied with,” says a teacher who passes by.
Of the 160 students who started the course in September, about 65 remain. Most of those from abroad have returned to their countries of origin until the volcanic activity ceases and the palm trees have relocated to other educational centers on the island that now they are closer to the places they inhabit. Other families have left for other areas of La Palma, scared by the daily tremors that are felt in the valley. “Another of our tasks today is to explain the evacuation plan as if it were a game, they have to be placed under the desks, these issues have to be treated carefully because many are scared by yesterday’s earthquake,” says a teacher about last Tuesday’s 4.8 earthquake, the highest recorded so far.
Some families wait to pick up their children. In front, the floor is covered in ash and the building’s gray facade contrasts with the colored ribbons that hang from the railing on the first floor. The faces are long, huddles are created and they wonder how they see “the thing”. The thing is the volcano, it is the new housing plan, it is the situation of the companies in ERTE, it is the fit of the children in the new school. Above, they have placed the old white sign with the name of the school, which they tore from the wall almost without time. It broke and a chunk is missing at one end. “We were going to fix it, but we are not going to do it, it’s our scar,” says Monica.
Gabriel, another of the teachers, smiles through his eyes. It has been a complicated month, but at the premiere everything went well. He volunteered to help affected families empty their homes and was the one who sounded the alarm about the evacuation of the old school. “There is something that continues to affect me: the image of the energy of the people as they take everything out of their house and the collapse when they close the door for the last time, knowing that you will never enter again.”
It’s eight thirty in the afternoon. Monica sends her last message:
– He already devoured it. I’m glad you met our blue school.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.