In the Eye of Typhoon Haiyan

By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines

“Daddy, play outside?” little Yvo asked his father. The louvers at the foot of the door allowed in gusts of water spray that only excited the 1-year-old more. He struggled out of his clothes down to his underwear, as if he were about to go for an innocent swim.

Yves

Former sponsored child Yves meets ChildFund field manager Marcella Donaal.

His father, Yves, braced himself against the door, fearing it would blow open under the sheer force of Typhoon Haiyan’s winds. But he calmly turned to his son and tried to explain the difference between a super typhoon and a light morning rain shower. Yvo did not understand the gravity of the situation, but he knew to trust and obey his father, and he contented himself with dancing from one foot to another, stamping at the puddles of water building at his feet. Yves, however, kept watch at the door, fearful for his family’s safety and praying that the typhoon would disappear.

Suddenly it did. As quickly as the winds picked up at around 8 that morning, the whole of Ormoc City fell calm. The skies cleared, and it was as bright a noon as they were used to. Yves and his family ran outside the public school classroom where they’d sought shelter. People bumped into each other, walking around, arms outstretched and gazes fixed on the sky. Some laughed, showing their expressions of relief and disbelief and hugging each other. It was almost too good to be true.

Ormoc destruction

A scene of devastation in Ormoc.

Something told Yves it was. He spun around where he stood, surveying the horizon. Long fingers of clouds clawed at the very periphery of the entire Ormoc skyline. Then, to his horror, Yves remembered a lesson from his childhood. He picked Yvo up and ran, shouting and waving at his fellow evacuees, “Turn back! Turn back! It’s not over! It’s just the eye of the storm,” he gasped.

Typhoon Haiyan was merciless when it resumed its battery of Ormoc. Even the shelter of the concrete classroom felt frail amid winds that this time blew in the opposite direction. Glass shattered, and corrugated iron wailed inhuman cries as sheets tumbled in the wind and crumpled like paper. “I tried to film the carnage with my camera phone, but I relented, fearing the wind would tear my phone from my grip,” Yves said.

Child-Centered Space

ChildFund set up Child-Centered Spaces in Ormoc and other affected areas in Philippines as soon as possible.

Hours later, it was truly over. Typhoon Haiyan had now crossed the island of Leyte and was now wreaking havoc on the islands of central and western Philippines. There were no cheers and celebration this time, however. In the fading daylight, even young Yvo seemed to understand. Typhoon Haiyan had devastated Ormoc City.

The first 24 hours were challenging. Yves found that the home his family rented had been largely ruined in the typhoon. Some sections of roofing remained intact but not enough to lend any comfort or shelter from the elements. His family would continue to reside at Linao Elementary School, where they had sought shelter during the typhoon.

The ensuing power and communications blackout covering the whole island of Leyte did not prevent word from reaching Ormoc of other towns and cities struck by Typhoon Haiyan: Palo and Tolosa were severely devastated, and Tacloban City had fallen. Death, hunger and the overwhelming number of requests to the local government had driven people past desperation in Tacloban, and there were safety and security concerns.

ChildFund was one of the first international organizations to reach Ormoc after the typhoon. “Residents feared Ormoc would become the next Tacloban, if the situation became more desperate,” said Philippines Rapid Response Team leader Erwin Galido.

children laughing

For a little while each day, children get the chance to have fun and perhaps forget a moment about the storm’s wreckage outside.

Despite these apprehensions, or perhaps specifically because of what was at stake, ChildFund committed to assist all of the residents of Ormoc City — not just the sponsored children and families supported through the local partner organization.

ChildFund’s Rapid Response Team — carrying tents, sleeping bags and other provisions for survival —  proceeded into Ormoc, located the local partner staff members and their  flooded office. ChildFund’s team needed a new base to establish a supply chain of food and essential non-food aid. It turned out that Yves was able to help.

Yves’ workplace, a small hotel where he was night manager, had survived the typhoon. Yves has two jobs, both as a manager and teaching hotel and restaurant management, a degree he achieved thanks to his sponsorship through ChildFund. Despite his city’s grim circumstances, Yves reported for work.

Yves learned that other Ormoc residents, government officials, small vendors and entrepreneurs decided to report for work too. He also heard that a few aid organizations and nongovernmental organizations had landed in Ormoc and was sure that ChildFund was among them. No sooner had he hoped to hear word then he ran into ChildFund’s Response Team, right in the hotel lobby. It was a happy reunion between ChildFund staff and a former sponsored child, despite the circumstances.

Child-Centered Space

Child-Centered Spaces also provide children with nutritious food and help them feel secure.

Yves offered to move ChildFund’s operations into the small, modest hotel. It had a generator, which operates at key hours of the day, allowing the team members to charge equipment and keep in touch with the response center established in neighboring Cebu Island. ChildFund also immediately established Child-Centered Spaces, which offer activities for children and youths to help them understand and recover from the psychological trauma of the destructive storm. UNICEF noted that ChildFund was the first international organization on the scene to establish these psychosocial support activities in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

Child-Centered Spaces are also the entry point for child protection activities in evacuation camps. The density of displaced populations, along with the lack of privacy and sharing of common latrines, place many children at risk during times of emergency. ChildFund staff members and volunteers make sure that referral and child-protection mechanisms are in place and that people know how to employ them.

Child-Centered Spaces

Our work in Ormoc and other cities and villages has just started, but we’ll continue to press forward.

One such Child-Centered Space was set up at the Linao Elementary School, where Yves and his family are sheltered. ChildFund staff members and trained volunteers from the local partner gathered children sheltered there to play, draw and express their emotions. Infants, children, and youth are grouped separately, and little Yvo gets to join the below-5 age group.

“Daddy, play outside!” Yvo shouts when it’s time for Child-Centered Space activities. This time, Yves knows it’s safe.

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