By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, Martin Nañawa, ChildFund’s communications officer in the Philippines, met many people who suffered fear and uncertainty during the storm. Here are the stories of two young women who work as teachers and are now volunteering in our Child-Centered Spaces to help children in their communities.
Darlene pressed her cheek against the sheet roofing of her home. She feared that otherwise the wind would tear her from the rooftop. Still, she tilted her face as far upward as she could, and squinting into the lashes of rain, she cried and cried, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’ll be good! I’ll change, I promise!”
If heaven had heard her, it made no sign. Though Darlene could barely hear herself over the roar of wind and rain, she pressed her appeal longer and louder.
Iris watched the wind rattle her home’s windows and a glass door facing the patio. The tempo picked up so violently, she instinctively moved to brace the windows, if only to keep them in place. Her mother cried, and adrenaline shot through Iris. Like a great, invisible fist, a gust of wind smashed through her windows and door. She felt time slow to a crawl as slivers of glass hurtled toward her. Her arms felt leaden, refusing to rise fast enough to shield her face. Her mouth opened to scream, but she spat back what she hoped weren’t tiny shards of glass.
Next, a wall of water was rushing into her home, and Iris latched her arms desperately onto a doorway, struggling against the current that threatened to throw her deeper into her house.
Shimmying her way wall to wall, Iris inched away from the doorway over to her brother, who was further back in the living room behind her. They both lost their footing, and the waves of floodwater threatened to sweep them out of their now absent front door, into a gurgling blender of waves and debris outside.
Just then, Iris turned to see the family’s refrigerator barreling towards her, top first like a battering ram. She and her brother just barely waded out of the way when the fridge spun lengthwise. The refrigerator then became a form of protection when it barred the doorway, just as Iris lost her grip and would have been swept outside.
Days later, Darlene looked up at the clear Leyte sky and wiped the perspiration from her brow. Above her, stone angels peered calmly back at her from the cathedral’s steeple. She traced the cathedral’s silhouette with her eyes, checking how many angels survived the typhoon. From where she stood on the ground, Palo Cathedral seemed largely intact. Though rooftops were ripped clean off, the angels stood calmly in place.
Darlene followed the angels’ gaze to the edge of the cathedral’s yard. Freshly turned earth marked the final resting place of 300 men, women and children. The mass grave was a grim reminder of the fate so many suffered during Typhoon Haiyan’s path through Leyte and the Visayas. Also, it was a personal reminder of the fate Darlene was spared when she clung for life on her rooftop. “I promised to be good,” she reminded herself.
The sound of children’s laughter roused Darlene from her reverie. Two young girls ran past her while chasing a ball. Then a line of giggling children hemmed her inside a small circle. One of the girls walked up to her, having just retrieved the ball that had gone astray. Darlene turned to address the young faces ringed around her; she announced the next game.
It was Darlene’s first day as a Child-Centered Space volunteer with ChildFund. She got the call for volunteers from a sister at the academy where Darlene is a teacher. Though fresh out of college, Darlene has had much experience working with children — and she promised she’d help out.
Friends and peers from St. Mary’s Academy similarly volunteered to work with ChildFund as it set up Child-Centered Spaces, or CCS for short, across Palo and Tolosa towns, just outside Tacloban City, which was hit particularly hard by the typhoon.
In a large green-and-white tent in the shadow of Palo Cathedral, ChildFund staff members and volunteers assigned young people in groups according to age — infants, children and adolescents — play games appropriate for each group. These weren’t just games for the sake of fun. The children’s world had just been hammered into ruin, and the CCS was perhaps the one place in Palo where children could be children for at least a few hours a day.
Iris’ CCS group assembled at the cathedral’s parking lot, not far from Darlene’s group. Just like Darlene, Iris signed up as a CCS volunteer, and they were both so overwhelmed by the turnout of children, they had to spread their groups beyond the tent and across the cathedral’s lot. Like Darlene, Iris is a teacher. Classes remain suspended in devastated areas of Leyte, but she regards her service as a CCS volunteer a fit expression of gratitude for having survived the typhoon.
The volunteers received an orientation in using the CCS modules to help children overcome the trauma, which were designed in consultation with a leading wellness center. Dozens of children come to these spaces every day on the cathedral grounds. Both Iris and Darlene understand the commitment it will take to see CCS activities through the holidays and into 2014.
While setting up the space, ChildFund staff members held a workshop to help CCS volunteers manage their own emotions. Iris, Darlene and their peers had just survived what could be the strongest typhoon in recorded history.
“It sounds childish, and I couldn’t say I’ve been bad before, but bargaining seemed to be all I could do as I clung to that rooftop,” Darlene said.
“These children and I have been through the same experience,” Iris added, “and when I help them overcome their fears, I feel myself making peace with mine.”
To help children in Palo and other communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, please consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Relief and Recovery Fund for the Philippines.