Filipino Children Still Need Our Help

By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines

The past two months have been filled with challenges for families in parts of the Philippines as they cope with the devastation and loss caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, has spent this time reporting on the children, youth and adults affected by the typhoon, the worst in recent history in the Philippines. Today we feature a compilation of some of his recent reports. Please consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to help these communities.

As of Dec. 15, Typhoon Haiyan has claimed more than 6,100 lives, with nearly 1,800 missing and almost 28,000 injured. More than 1 million homes were damaged, and 550,000 of these were destroyed. The estimated total cost of damage is $36.6 billion.

Giving Thanks

Filipino boys

Justin (center) and his friends.

Here is a vignette from Martin, reflecting on the storm’s toll:

“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” I asked the young boy. I was suddenly concerned. When I was 10 years old, I wanted a lot of things for Christmas. Justin just looked back at me and said, “I’m alive, Mama and Papa are alive. All three of us are alive.”

Justin and his family were sheltered at the evacuation center at the Special Education Center at Tacloban. Their home had been destroyed in the winds and catastrophic storm surge caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

As ChildFund Philippines’ communications officer, I’ve been on assignment with ChildFund’s Emergency Response Team since Nov. 7, before the typhoon made first landfall. I’ve been with the team through rapid assessments in Leyte communities at Ormoc City, Palo, Tolosa, Tanauan and Tacloban. Other ChildFund teams were in Bantayan in northern Cebu and Capiz, Iloilo and Toboso in the western Visayas.

Everywhere I trained my camera lens, it found a unique form of misery: homes flattened for miles around, as if the entire landscape had been carpet-bombed, vehicles strewn about like toy cars and trucks flung about by a now unseen force. Every kilometer or so, I’d find distress messages painted on pavement or concrete. Regrettably, cadavers by the roadside were an even more frequent sight.

Devastation in Leyte

Devastation on the island of Leyte.

I remember shooting dozens of photos in all directions the first time I walked through the Leyte corridor. When I thought I’d captured everything, we’d push on into the next community to find more of the same. It took a while before it sank in that I could fill memory cards and still fail to capture the full extent of the destruction, hunger and misery.

I turned to see the row of young faces lined up next to Justin. Two 9-year-old boys sat with him at a little table. Next to them, there were three more wooden tables lined up, and when the children caught my glance as I scanned the room, they all smiled back at me. The boys were in the middle of an exercise from ChildFund’s psychosocial support modules for emergencies. They were writing and drawing their wishes and thanksgiving for this Christmas.

Soon other children were volunteering the entries they had written. Each time I’d lift my camera to my face, these smiles grew wider, and boys automatically touched their chins with their thumb and forefinger, vying for attention in my viewfinder. After a long day in the field, wading through my countrymen’s anguish, scenes like this at CCS sites have become the respites I look forward to.

I could feel my legs starting to go numb from squatting to talk to the kids. Standing up to stretch, I bumped my head into something hanging from the ceiling. It was a parol, a handmade Filipino Christmas lantern fashioned like the star of Bethlehem. I wasn’t sure who had hung the parol there, but I could see a few more of them dotting the corridor. Despite the circumstances, Christmas had found its way to this small space in Tacloban.

CCS in Leyte

ChildFund officials, including Asia Regional Director Geoffrey Petkovich (pictured), paid a visit to a Child-Centered Space in Leyte recently.

ChildFund’s Response

During the relief phase immediately after the typhoon, ChildFund and our local partner organizations assisted in distributing food and non-food necessities, establishing Child-Centered Spaces (CCS) to provide safe places for children to gather and address the trauma they had experienced, providing nourishment for children and mothers and educating children while schools were closed.

During the recovery phase, which is ongoing, ChildFund and its partners help to restore community members’ livelihoods, strengthen child protection mechanisms and build emergency response capacity for future disasters.

In Roxas City, two Child-Centered Spaces continue to operate at a reduced schedule, now that schools there have reopened. In Ormoc City, three CCSs continue to operate, and teachers at an elementary school have received training in psychosocial support to help their students heal from the devastation. The teachers note that this process has been helpful for them, as they too have suffered great losses. Schools have closed for the holidays in many areas.

In Tacloban, Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo on the island of Leyte, seven CCSs continue to operate, and two more spaces, including one funded by Barnfonden (ChildFund Sweden), are in the planning stages. Both are expected to open by the start of 2014. Funding from UNICEF for a nutrition project in Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo was approved Dec. 18, and this project’s staff will coordinate with UNICEF representatives in Tacloban. Food and non-food essentials are still being distributed in this region.

On Bantayan Island (Northern Cebu), day-care workers and other local representatives attended psychosocial training for their work with children who are still feeling the emotional effects of the storm’s devastation. Most participants still show signs of stress (like crying while telling their experiences).

The facilitators provided non-intrusive, practical care and support; assessed needs and concerns; listened to participants without pressuring them to speak or share; comforted them and provided activities to calm them. ChildFund staff members also helped participants connect to appropriate sources of information, services and other social support.

Also in Bantayan, electrical power has been restored, but many children age 5 and under are moderately to severely malnourished. The World Food Program is addressing this problem, as providing the proper nutrition requires special attention.

Please consider making a donation to help children in the Philippines; we are still collecting funds, and they will make a big difference in the lives of thousands. Thank you.

Filipino children say thanks

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