By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
Alhassane says he never had any friends until this year.
“I was born as an albino person and the only one like this in the village,” he says. “Other children rejected me. When they saw me coming, they would move away from me. What hurt me most was when they said that I would infect them if I came close to them. I was so unhappy because none of the children in the village wanted me as a friend. I was often ready to fight anyone who teased me.”
But at a Child-Centered Space for children in Guinea, 12-year-old Alhassane made new friends — many of whom had been shunned after their loved ones were infected with the deadly Ebola virus. Now these children knew the kind of loneliness Alhassane had experienced his whole life, and it taught them greater understanding and empathy. You can see pictures from the center in the slideshow below and read more of Alhassane’s story here.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Bursts of rain and wind punctuate an otherwise pleasant day in India’s Nagapattinum district. The streets are quiet in the village of Sampathottam, and it’s time for lunch. The scent of a dry fish curry wafts through the air. Govindaraj, though, is impatient and waiting for the rain to stop.
“I don’t like this rain, like the way I hate the sea,” he says, visibly irritated. “Since the morning, I am waiting for this rain to stop. I will get the flowers from the market. Every year, I offer these flowers to my parents on their anniversary.” This isn’t a happy anniversary, though. It’s the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death and the Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed 230,000 lives in South Asia.
Govindaraj lost his parents, his elder brother and 10 other members of his family in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 7,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. He dusts off the photographs of his lost relatives.
“She is my mother, he is my father, and the other one is my elder brother,” he says, pointing to the pictures. “They were among the 13 of my family members who became prey to that devastating tsunami and left me alone to die, every day remembering them. Anita is also an unfortunate child like me.”
Thirteen-year-old Anita is Govindaraj’s cousin, who also lost her parents in the tsunami and is now being taken care of by Govindaraj and his wife Malakodi.
“I am lucky to have survived nature’s fury,” Govindaraj says. “Actually, I was at my uncle’s place where my wife and Anita were, when that killer tsunami hit our village. It destroyed everything, killed my entire family and that of Anita’s,” he says, turning his face toward the door to hide his tears.
Comforting him in her arms, Malakodi says,“It’s God’s decision. What can we do?
“We were fortunate enough that our village, Perumalpettai, is located a bit higher than the other villages. The tsunami water did come to our village but did not sweep us along. We survived. Only those who were near the shore at that time were killed or have gone missing,” she says.
When asked what she remembers about that day, Anita says, “I cannot recall anything about what happened on that day and how the tsunami was. The only thing I know is that it killed my parents and deprived me from the fortune of having parents. “
“I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami,” she says, pointing at their pictures.
Elsewhere in the village, Mahesh and her husband Ashoghan and son Amrith survived the tsunami, but they were forever touched by the trauma of the day. A pregnant Mahesh was slammed into walls by the waves, and later she and her husband were confronted with scores of dead bodies while searching for their 3-year-old son in a shelter. They found him in a corner, alive but unable or unwilling to speak.
“It was a horrible situation out there,” Ashoghan recalls. “We decided to move to another place, as the atmosphere was affecting both our body and soul, especially my son, who had not spoken a word since we found him. We crossed a backwater river stretch and moved out of the village and walked throughout the night to reach a nearby town.”
Amrith, now 13, is sponsored through ChildFund and attends school. After the tsunami, he was able to spend time in a Child-Centered Space to help recover from the trauma. But the family still suffers hardship. Amrith’s younger sister, Joyse, who was born a couple of months after the tsunami, has a nerve disorder that has prevented her from forming words or walking. She receives treatment for her condition, which is paid for by the government, her father says.
Near Govindaraj’s home, K. Rathnavel, a leader of this community, is busy preparing for a commemoration event for the victims of the tsunami.
In between phone calls to other community members, he says, “I want to build a memorial dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the tsunami. I have yet to raise the required funds for it.
“But I am sure we will soon be able to erect a memorial in our village,” he adds confidently.
When asked to tell his tsunami story, Rathnavel’s confidence disappears.
“Whenever I see the ocean, I get reminded of how it took away hundreds of our fellow villagers – men, women and children alike,” he says. Most who survived have become so scared of the sea that they have given up fishing, the ages-old occupation of the village, Rathnavel says.
“Most of us live in these houses allotted to us by the government as part of their rehabilitation plan for tsunami-affected people,” he adds. “Our old place has now turned into a ghost village.
“We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it. Now, we don’t take a chance. If there is any alert from the authorities, we simple abide and stay away from the sea.”
According to K. Krishna Kumar of the AVVAI Village Welfare Society, ChildFund India’s local partner in Nagapattinam district, “The 2004 tsunami taught us that resilience is the key to recover from difficulties and to bounce back. People in this region have seen unprecedented devastation and lost numerable lives but are now moving on. That’s life, and we tell the affected communities to be strong and look forward.”
“Today, a decade later, the important question before us is how prepared we are for another such disaster,” he asks. “The disaster forced the development sector to focus on resilience in their programming efforts. As the largest NGO in this region, we played a coordinating role in the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process in partnership with various funding agencies and governments,” he continues.
Part of ChildFund’s response to the disaster, carried out through local partners like AVVAI Village, was to build Child-Centered Spaces to help children recover from trauma in safe places. In this district, we and our partners also started a program to help people find other sources of income after losing their livelihoods.
“The tsunami should be remembered as a history of setbacks and tears,” Kumar says. “But the motivation to go forward must be harnessed.”
Just over a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as “Ruby,” roared slowly across that country, including some areas still recovering from Haiyan.
After Hagupit’s erratic pattern of development from tropical storm to Super Typhoon to “strong typhoon,” leaving millions shaken and fearful, Hagupit made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Saturday evening, tracking across Samar and just north of Tacloban City, the area hardest hit by Haiyan.
Fortunately, Hagupit has turned out to be not nearly as powerful as last year’s deadly Haiyan. Still, the slow-moving storm brought torrential rains, and flashfloods and landslides are concerns. The storm is curving northwest, toward Manila, and will pass south of the capital on Monday night.
Meanwhile, ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We also are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas; before the storm, all reported that they were ready, with Child-Centered Space kits pre-positioned to provide children with psychosocial and other support. Emergency response teams have pre-positioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents.
As of right now, our easternmost local partner is gathering information about the community it serves and will conduct rapid assessments this week. We are still waiting to hear from our other four local partners in Hagupit’s path, but the weakening of the storm as it passes over land is reason for hope. We’ll provide more updates as we receive them.
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.”
By Martin Nanawa, 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. Here is his first dispatch.
Tacloban looked really shiny from my airplane window. It was the glint of freshly installed corrugated metal sheet roofing — many homes and businesses whose walls still stood had recently repaired their roofs.
When ChildFund’s emergency response team first landed in Tacloban, the city was the dire place the world was hearing about in the news. After what I had seen then, progress – any kind of visible progress – was welcome news. I’d see more signs of it as I made my way through town.
Utilities have been restored throughout the city. I’ve heard there are occasional power outages, but supply is largely stable. This is a far cry from the city that was swallowed in darkness each night. Water supply and mobile phone coverage have also been restored.
The public transportation grid is working again. Passenger jeepneys (local, privately owned minibuses) and commuter tricycles are plying the road once more. Some are even back to reckless driving, which is another indicator of normalcy, for better or worse.
Public transportation also indicates fuel supply has also been restored. I spotted many gas stations newly repaired or nearly so. Right after Haiyan, gas stations lay partially or completely in ruins and were subsequently ransacked for their fuel supply.
Tacloban’s streets have been cleared of rubble and rubbish. In the first days after the super typhoon, cars were strewn about the roads like some toddler’s toys. Now, nearly all the wrecked vehicles are gone from the streets, and the remaining automobile husks are parked neatly in front of their owners’ lots.
Commerce in Tacloban is also struggling to recover. Many businesses have repaired and reopened. Markets, restaurants, boutiques, electronics and assorted services often sport large painted canvass streamers announcing their reopenings — no need to live off packed rations or relief goods anymore. I walked into a little corner fast-food eatery for lunch and enjoyed a good, cheap meal while watching a noontime vaudeville on TV, seated next to a few school-aged girls giggling over Facebook on their phones and tablets. It felt like Haiyan had never happened there.
The volume of lechon (roast pig) stalls open throughout the city also surprised me. Lechon isn’t cheap, and it’s usually served only at fiestas or large banquets.
School is out for the Philippines’ summer break, from late March to the first week of June. Teachers say ChildFund’s Child-Centered Space training was critical in the months of January to March, when school had to resume but children were not physically and emotionally prepared. These same teachers feel more confident that they’re in better shape to start school in June.
Still, in contrast to local businesses, school buildings have largely not been repaired, and teachers expect to run up to three shifts of students using each surviving classroom. Quonset hut-like structures built by responding agencies will help ease congestion in classrooms.
Though signs of progress and recovery were apparent everywhere, so are Haiyan’s horrible scars. Though large structures-turned-evacuation centers, like the astrodome by the bay, were now empty or under repair, numerous tent cities can still be found in the city. Homes and businesses that suffered greater damage remain neglected. Many residents or shop owners just aren’t prepared to rebuild, or they’ve abandoned Tacloban for Cebu, Manila or elsewhere.
The large ships that Haiyan’s storm surge carried and deposited on dry land, right on top of a seaside community, remain in place – solemn steel monoliths to remind the city of Haiyan’s toll. The ships’ hulls are now covered in graffiti – some are messages of encouragement, but there are many expressions of grief and rage.
Tacloban is rebuilding, but it’s rebuilding over not only terrible physical and emotional scars but also pre-existing conditions. Businesses may be restarting, but lower-income households, whose earnings derive from agriculture such as copra production, have it harder. The threat of malnutrition, already observed in Leyte before Haiyan, has only further been compounded by the scarcity endured until only recently.
Having personally seen Tacloban on its knees, I’m thankful to see it struggle to its feet now. I’m thankful to be a part of this effort. I’m thankful to colleagues at ChildFund who’ve labored, wept and struggled alongside Taclobanons for six months now. Of course, I’m also thankful to donors who’ve helped us do what we do. ChildFund will continue to play a significant role in Tacloban’s recovery.
ChildFund is invested in an early recovery strategy that tackles livelihood restoration, nutrition and child protection challenges faced by post-Haiyan Tacloban and other affected areas in the central Philippines. Funding for ChildFund’s nutrition and child protection projects was made possible through grants from UNICEF.
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.
Ivy 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 Ivy. 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, Ivy 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, Ivy 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 Ivy 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.
Ivy’s CCS group assembled at the cathedral’s parking lot, not far from Darlene’s group. Just like Darlene, Ivy 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, Ivy 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 Ivy 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. Ivy, 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,” Ivy 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.
By Julien Anseau, Asia Region Communications Manager
As you approach Tambulilid school, the singing and laughter of children gets louder and louder. It’s great to hear children having fun and being children again.
Nearly one month after Typhoon Haiyan struck islands in the Philippines, ravaged communities are slowly getting back on their feet. In the devastated city of Ormoc, ChildFund is addressing the immediate needs of impacted families by distributing food packs and essential items including hygiene kits, roofing materials and cooking utensils.
ChildFund is also focusing on providing psychosocial support to children. In disaster situations, children are particularly vulnerable. While parents are out looking for shelter, food, water and emergency assistance, children are often left unsupervised, increasing their susceptibility to abuse, exploitation and harassment. Children are often separated from loved ones and exposed to levels of destruction that have long-term effects on their psychological and physical development.
ChildFund was quick to establish Child-Centered Spaces immediately following Typhoon Haiyan to provide a safe haven for children to play, socialize, learn and express themselves in a caring and supportive environment. At Tambulilid school, where ChildFund established its first CCS after the typhoon, a young mother, Rein, says: “I leave my daughter here while I stand in the long distribution line for food. She is only 5 years old. It is important she has a safe place to play under supervision.”
At a CCS, children take part in activities that help them overcome the traumatic experience they went through. It is also a place where children can be children again.
“For a few hours every day, I can forget what happened and play with friends,” says a smiling Angel, age 7. Marcela, a local ChildFund staff member, explains: “Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression.”
Today, children are drawing. They are enjoying themselves. Marcela adds: “At first, most children drew pictures of the typhoon and the destruction, but in more recent days, they are drawing their family and friends. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
More than 300 children participate daily at Tambulilid, one of three CCSs run by ChildFund in Ormoc. “We conduct separate sessions for different age groups, where we provide age-appropriate structured activities,” Marcela says. “Many youths are trained facilitators and have volunteered to conduct sessions for younger children, because they want to be active in the community’s recovery. We have also mobilized many volunteers. ChildFund has worked in Ormoc through a local partner organization for many years, and we have a strong relationship with the local community. We train our volunteers to provide basic support to children dealing with distress and shock from their situations, and to recognize children who need to be referred for more specialized services.”
Although food aid has arrived in Ormoc, malnutrition is still an issue as a number of children appear to be underweight. ChildFund provides food to children at the CCS. Marcela says: “The first day we opened the CCS, we served pancit (a type of Filipino noodles). It was the first time children ate a cooked meal since the typhoon struck. They were extremely hungry. They ate everything up quickly and they had a smile back on their faces. The second day we served pandesal (a popular bread roll in the Philippines made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, and salt).” Today, it is spaghetti with tomato sauce. It makes a nice change from the rice and canned sardines they eat every day in the evacuation centers.
While the situation in Ormoc is improving, basic survival resources — food, drinking water, shelter and access to medical treatment — are still needed. Schools were expected to reopen sometime this month, but with school buildings extensively damaged, this is unlikely. Schools are in need of major repair to be safely occupied, and learning and teaching materials need to be replaced if classes are to resume as intended. There is still no date for the restart of pre-school and day care activities at this time — highlighting the critical importance of ChildFund’s Child-Centered Spaces.
ChildFund has opened 13 CCSs impacted areas in the Philippines, but thousands of children still require psychosocial support to overcome trauma from the typhoon. With your support, ChildFund will be able to open more spaces for affected children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.
Typhoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.
Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.
More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:
Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.
Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.
Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.
Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.
In the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.