By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
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.
One hundred days have passed since Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, leaving 6,201 people dead and more than 1 million homes either damaged or destroyed. ChildFund has been on the ground since the immediate aftermath, assisting with food and water distribution, setting up Child-Centered Spaces and helping families rebuild homes and livelihoods. And yet, the people of Capiz, Leyte, Cebu and Bantayan islands still need your help as they try to get back on their feet. Consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund.
“It is a war against hunger and disease. It is a war against negative coping strategies families feel forced to adopt. It is a war against thirst, and it is a war against international news cycles and ambivalence,” says Isaac Evans, ChildFund’s director for global safety and security.
As part of our 75th anniversary blog series, we take a look at ChildFund’s long history with the Philippines, as captured in a 1959 letter by Dr. Verent Mills.
China’s Children Fund continued to grow throughout World War II, assisting 45 orphanages by November 1944, only six years after CCF was started. At the end of the war in 1945, CCF founder Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke saw that the organization’s income exceeded the known needs in China. That’s when CCF began its work in other Asian countries, including today’s focus, the Philippines.
We began sending funds to orphanages in the Philippines in 1946 (in fact, on Feb. 7, our board voted to help Filipino children), and we still support children in the Philippines, with everyday needs and when disasters strike, including Typhoon Haiyan, which claimed thousands of lives and destroyed homes and livelihoods for millions.
Our support for children in the Philippines has deep roots. In August 1959, Dr. Verent Mills, who was then Christian Children’s Fund overseas director, wrote to Dr. Clarke from Manila during a visit to a cottage-style orphanage, Children’s Garden:
“Mrs. Pangindian and others were at the airport and we drove by the Methodist Church to pick up Dr. Mosebrook, who returned to Manila just two weeks ago. Then on out in the rain to Children’s Garden, where the little ones sang a song of welcome. The whole place looks so neat and clean and the shrubbery and flowers are beautiful. Everything is always kept in tip-top shape here and the children appear very happy. The same cottage mothers are there and they are very proud of their children.
The new clinic and sickbay is near completion and will be quite an asset to them, for it is difficult to segregate the ill children in the cottages. As soon as the weather changes they intend to build the other cottage.
Dr. Perez, who sends her special greetings to you both, stated that as time goes on the needs are becoming more pressing than ever, due to inflation, and the cost of living is going up constantly. … There is more unemployment than ever and market prices of everyday commodities continue to rise daily.”
Mills continues, “The relatives of many of the children we are helping are very grateful. Likewise, the local citizens are rallying around the project and helping equally as much as we are giving. If Voluntary Agencies only had the wherewithal to do more we could accomplish so much good and create more goodwill between other countries and our own.”
In closing, Mills writes that there are more than 200 children on the waiting list for Children’s Garden and that Dr. Perez hopes that in 1960, the orphanage could take in some of these children if they can build three more cottages.
“Also Dr. Mosebrook has asked me if he can raise locally for building an additional cottage. Would we take on the support of the children at $10.00 per month? I told him we would. I thought it would be an encouragement and an incentive. Children’s Garden in the Philippines is but one of our many Homes of which we can be justly proud.”
I’ve been in the Philippines nearly a month now, supporting our emergency response to Super Typhoon Haiyan. I’ve learned a lot on this trip, but one thing I will carry with me is being able to count to eight in Cebuano. I did not learn it because I read it in a book or used language-learning software. I learned it by placing eight bags of dried noodles into larger plastic bags – hundreds and hundreds of times: Ousa, duha, tolo, opat, lima, unum, pito, walo.
The eight bags of noodles, combined with other food items, were enough to feed a family of five for five days.
The other day, I went to Sacred Heart Church here in Cebu, where staff and volunteers have been packing food and non-food items nearly every day for the last month. I’ve stopped in before, but this time I wanted to thank them and help with packing, to experience what they were doing for us. Of course, I had no idea what I was in for. The labor – packing and moving combined food items weighing about 90 kilos (200 lb.) – is especially tough here, where the temperature and humidity are high. Sheets of sweat ran down my face within minutes.
My colleagues, Joel and Martin, were with me that day, and after an hour or so of heavy lifting, we settled into other work: packing rice, sardines or noodles into the bags. Eventually we found our niche, taking noodles from boxes (thousands of boxes!) and placing eight bags into a small plastic bag. Joel and I worked as a team – as a machine, really – while Martin packed canned sardines into other bags. We were moving quickly, so we counted aloud to make sure we were putting the right number in each bag.
Joel soon fell into his native Cebuano, and a game of sorts was afoot. Soon enough, I would learn to count in Cebuano, but only to eight. There were many laughs as I tried to first remember, then sound the words out and slowly develop mastery. After a couple of hours, Martin said it was time for me to go; the others had already worked well past quitting time but would not leave as long as I was there.
Sorry and a bit embarrassed, I got up slowly. The work was harder and more monotonous and dirtier than I had thought. But now I can count to eight in Cebuano, and the story of how I learned to do it is one more memory that helps restore me when the work of providing relief gets me down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Willy Peeters arrived in Miami, Fla., in 1995, to start a business in scale modeling and design. He is from Belgium, but he decided to make a change and move westward, a shift he’s continued with a recent move to Texas.
In 1997, he was watching TV, when he saw a commercial for ChildFund, then known as Christian Children’s Fund. It flipped a switch in Willy’s head, and he decided to sponsor a child — a girl from the Philippines.
“I thought it was the right thing to do, to give a child a chance,” Willy says.
The child’s name was Khim, and she was in first grade. Today, at age 23, she is a teacher and the mother of a daughter; they live on Basilan Island, in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. ChildFund continues to work in this region today; although the island is often affected by storms, it was not damaged by the recent super typhoon Haiyan.
“It was a coincidence that I needed a father’s love, which I found in him,” Khim says, “and he, who doesn’t have a child of his own, is fond of kids. I remember one staff member [from ChildFund] saying to me how other kids from the organization envy me for having Uncle Will. I felt really special, because he treated me not just as a sponsored child but as a part of his own family.”
Willy and Khim share a love of reading. Although we can no longer ensure that bulky packages get from sponsor to child today, back then, Willy sent Khim science books, which helped her in her education.
He still has a box of letters and pictures she sent him with updates through the years. “I will never get rid of those,” he says. Willy’s sponsorship of Khim continued until she was 18. He didn’t expect to hear from Khim again after the sponsorship ended, but he received a message on Facebook from her two years ago, when she was in college.
And last Christmas, Khim messaged Willy again to let him know that she had achieved another goal.
“[She] thanked me for sponsoring her because she [had] just passed the exam and is now a teacher, just like she always wrote she would like to be one day,” Willy says. “I could not have imagined receiving such a heartwarming present and that my simple efforts made such a difference in somebody’s life thousands of miles away. She has a great family now, and I couldn’t have been prouder of her for working as hard as she promised in her letters.”
Willy hopes one day to meet Khim in person, and he’s thinking about sponsoring another child through ChildFund.
“My uncle is really a philanthropist at heart,” Khim says. “He would always ask me what I am going to take when I reach college. He started sending money for my savings account, which I used when I reached college. Now, I am already a teacher with the help of my dear Uncle Will, through the help of CCF. Thanks a lot for helping us build our dream.”
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