By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines last Nov. 8, Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, reported on the children, youth and adults struggling in its aftermath. Six months after the storm, he reports on their recovery. This is his second dispatch; read his first here.
Taclobanons all knew fear on Nov. 8. That day, Christine, a teacher, survived being trapped in her two-story apartment. For several hours, she was caught with water below and water above. The storm surge flooded her home at street level, forcing her upstairs, where she endured harsh rain and strong winds after her apartment’s roof had been peeled away by the strongest winds she’d ever seen. Christine had to duck and cover in the stairwell, where she could also keep an eye on the churning tumult below.
Her fears would not end there, however. When the storm passed, all sorts of news — true and false — traveled fast among survivors. Some said the mayor was dead; others claimed rebels had descended on the city; still others said inmates were released so they wouldn’t drown in prison.
Power lines were down everywhere, so no one had any way of knowing what was true and what was not. Christine lived alone, and she feared for her safety. She first stayed with her aunt before evacuating to the neighboring island of Cebu, where the city’s urban comforts sharply contrasted with the desperation and scarcity in Tacloban.
Thirteen-year-old Kristine also feared for her life. As the floodwaters of Haiyan’s storm surge poured into her house, she and her mother, her 18-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister climbed over stacked furniture to keep from drowning. Her brother opened a panel in the ceiling, and he helped them all up. In the ceiling, they each lay prone over a wooden beam as roiling rapids filled Kristine’s living room.
After the storm, they surveyed the damage to their home. The walls still stood, but the garage had collapsed, crushing their car.
Kristine and her family, like Christine, heard rumors about violence and roving bands of looters. Her father is a police officer, but he was stationed three hours away, and she hadn’t heard anything from him since Leyte Island lost power. Fearing for their safety, the family crawled back into the ceiling so intruders would not find them.
In the pitch-black night, all sorts of unearthly sounds haunted them and fed their fears of danger, both real and imagined.
Loud thuds and creaking at her home’s perimeter gate pulled Kristine out of her thoughts. She held her breath as she listened again, hoping it was just her imagination. There it was again. It sounded like someone was trying to push their gate open. Kristine heard her mother calling to her brother to stay put, but it was too late — he had climbed down from the ceiling to investigate.
He soon reappeared, wearing a grin across his face. Their father was home.
Returning to school
After the storm, the Philippines’ Department of Education announced that schools would reopen Dec. 2. Christine returned from Cebu — only to find her apartment had been ransacked. Many things were stolen, and the rest were damaged by the flood. Christine also found that belongings she had stored at Sto. Nino Elementary School had been stolen, along with various other items of school property.
Christine was beside herself. She had become a public school teacher to help people be better and because she loved children, and now she’d been robbed of even belongings she’d never deemed valuable. People seemed to just take things because they could. She couldn’t believe her misfortune.
Nonetheless, she had to come to work. But how would she teach? Teachers and students had lost their books and notebooks, and many children no longer had uniforms and shoes. Everyone still bore the shock of Haiyan, and nobody was in the mood, let alone prepared, to resume school.
Kristine also returned to school Dec. 2, but her heart wasn’t in it. Few of her peers were in attendance. It seemed to be too soon for everyone, especially those coping with far worse circumstances than her family. Kristine’s classmates sat and stared, and they wept for friends they’d lost in the storm.
At the same time, hundreds of evacuees crowded into Sto. Nino School, and both Kristine and Christine found ChildFund staff members among all the new faces. They were organizing a Child-Centered Space there, a place for children to recover from all the intense emotions caused by the typhoon.
Despite all of her trials and tribulations, Christine signed up as a volunteer. “I’m a teacher. I’ve been a teacher 27 years,” she declared. “I teach because I love children, and help is what they really need right now.” ChildFund staff members trained her and other volunteers to use curriculum developed specifically for emergencies. Instantly, Christine felt she’d made the right decision.
“I conducted CCS sessions at school through December, right until everyone took a break for the holidays. Then in January, we shifted to holding CCS on weekends, to make time for the school curriculum on weekdays,” Christine says. “It gave me so much joy seeing the children’s demeanor improve, hearing them laugh, play and sing again, witnessing children learn to be children again, despite all that’s happened.”
For her part, Kristine was happy that CCS activities filled the gap before regular classes resumed. “We couldn’t really hold class in the weeks after the typhoon,” she says. “But CCS helped us get over the intense memory of fear. When school really resumed in January, we were ready.”
ChildFund also helped Kristine and her classmates get ready to resume school by replacing lost school supplies. “It feels like such a small thing,” Kristine says, “but I was delighted to actually own something new after losing so many things to the storm.” It would be a while before simple things like pens and pencils could be purchased locally in Tacloban.
It’s now been half a year since Haiyan tore through Tacloban and other towns. Christine remains a ChildFund volunteer, and her local knowledge is invaluable to ChildFund’s staff members.
Sometimes she brings Kristine with her to ChildFund activities. During summer break, Kristine is learning outdoors skills through scouting.
“Haiyan’s hardship almost curled me into a closed fist,” Christine says, “but ChildFund reminded me to remain an open palm, sharing my blessings with others.”