Philippines

Assessing and Responding to Devastation in the Philippines

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines staff

As we begin to understand the scope of Typhoon Haiyan’s toll on the Philippines, ChildFund staff members and our local partner organizations are in the devastated communities, distributing aid and assessing needs. You can assist by making a donation to our Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. Here is the most recent report from our Philippines colleagues:

ChildFund has started to implement its emergency response in these priority areas: Ormoc City, Roxas City and Tacloban City. An operations center has been established in Cebu City as the staging point for logistics and personnel deployment to Tacloban and other Eastern Visayas provinces. Procurement of relief goods (food packs and non-food items) is ongoing simultaneously in Manila and Cebu City.

Below is a summary of the results of the rapid assessment done by our staff on the field:

damage in Ormoc City

Ormoc City was one of the most devastated localities in the Philippines. ChildFund was among the first aid organizations to reach the city.

Ormoc City, Leyte: The entire population of about 100,000 families has been affected. Food and potable water are their most urgent needs. Only 35 of the 110 barangays (districts) have received food packs, which are good for two days only. There are no local suppliers. There is also no electricity. Although there is a water supply, not all water is potable. At this time, 90 percent of roads and bridges are passable. Public buildings have sustained major damage. The local government can arrange for the transportation to deliver supplies from Cebu City.

Our local partner has accounted for all 271 enrolled children. Most of them have damaged houses. Meanwhile, the office of our local partner is severely damaged.

Roxas City, Capiz: The entire city sustained heavy damage from the typhoon, affecting 12,123 people, or 2,499 households. Nearly 5,000 children are affected. More than 10,000 people have left their homes and are currently living with relatives, in makeshift tents or at designated evacuation centers. ChildFund staff has determined the presence of 450 families in 20 evacuation centers. There is no electricity in the entire city, but cell phone network coverage has been restored. There is a potable water supply, but it is running low. 

phones recharging

Cell phones recharging in Ormoc.

ChildFund operates in 13 of the 47 barangays in Roxas City. ChildFund is in close coordination with the city’s Social Welfare and Development Office.  So far, ChildFund is the only nongovernmental organization present in the area. ChildFund has initially distributed 200 units of 6-liter bottled water. Food and non-food items are still being packaged and will be ready for distribution shortly. The staff is in the process of setting up a Child-Centered Space in Culasi, one of the hardest hit barangays. The staff members have conducted a preliminary session for 30 children. More sessions will take place in the following days.

Iloilo City, Iloilio: Our local partner has initially conducted activities for children and distributed 200 units of bottled water at one evacuation center. Based on the assessment of the ChildFund team, the municipality of Estancia is being recommended as another area for response since it is the hardest-hit municipality in the province.

distributing water

Distributing water in Ormoc City.

Tacloban City, Leyte: Its population of 220,000 people bore the brunt of the typhoon, with the death toll being placed so far at 1,774 by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. There are 13 evacuation centers hosting about 15,000 people.  Although we do not have programs in Tacloban, ChildFund has an assessment team standing by.

Toboso, Negros Occidental: All barangays of this municipality were affected. Some 1,256 families or 5,213 people are in evacuation centers. There is no electricity in the municipality, and it most likely will not be restored until December. Food and non-food items are the priority needs.

ChildFund Philippines

ChildFund Philippines staff members meet at the national office to prepare their response to the typhoon.

ChildFund is coordinating with the Social Welfare Office and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. So far, ChildFund is the only organization coordinating with the local government unit, which can provide transportation for the relief goods. Community Watch groups, barangay officials and teachers also can be mobilized for relief operations.

San Carlos City, Negros Occidental: ChildFund works in six of the 17 barangays in San Carlos. The entire city, home to more than 13,000 people, was affected. The local government, which through the Social Welfare office provided relief goods in the evacuation centers during the typhoon, now is giving priority only to families whose houses are totally damaged. There is no electricity. Food and non-food items (mats, blankets, mosquito nets) are needed. ChildFund is coordinating with the Social Welfare Office and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental: No reports of storm damage. Our local partner has accounted for the 2,560 enrolled children in Roxas City, Iloilo and Bacolod.

Typhoon Haiyan Update: Response Begins in Hardest-Hit Areas

typhoon devastation in Philippines

Residents walk on a road littered with debris after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban City. REUTERS/Erik De Castro, courtesy Trust.org

ChildFund, along with our partners in the ChildFund Alliance, has launched an appeal for $10 million for immediate relief and long-term recovery for children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the Philippines over the weekend.

We have identified three priority areas for our emergency response efforts: Ormoc City and Roxas City, where we have programs and sponsored children, and Tacloban City, a non-program area that is also identified by United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination as among the hardest-hit localities.

Our immediate goals:

Establish Child-Centered Spaces in Ormoc, Roxas and Tacloban – two centers in each city.

Distribute food packs (rice, noodles and canned goods) for 3,000 families.

Distribute non-food items (bath soap, children’s underwear, sanitary supplies, baby diapers and laundry soap) to 3,000 families.

The contents of the food packs are based on government recommendations for relief items. For the non-food items, ChildFund chose a selection of basic necessities to fill gaps in the standard packs provided by the government and other entities, thereby getting a broader selection of essentials to families. 

We are also in the process of setting up an operations center in Cebu, which has been declared by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to be the staging point for any logistics and personnel going to Tacloban and other eastern provinces. Cebu is the closest city to the hard-hit areas, and we have approval from a university to use a large space in its complex for staging.

typhoon devastation in Philippines

Tacloban City is one of the hardest-hit localities. REUTERS/Erik De Castro, courtesy of Trust.org

Updates on ChildFund-Supported Communities

Iloilo: ChildFund’s local partner organization there is providing support to an evacuation center in the city. The local government has declared a state of calamity and is seeking help from nongovernmental organizations. The local partner plans to establish a Child-Centered Space and distribute bottled water and food packs.

Ormoc: We have yet to reconnect communications with our local partner in Ormoc City. Many towns and communities in Leyte province still cannot be reached.  A small response team is seeking to reach the area by ferry, but security is a high concern. Ormoc remains largely unreached by relief efforts.

Negros Occidental: Our local partner with the Child Labor Project in Negros is still assessing damage and accounting for children and families. The community has been declared a disaster area, with immediate needs for food and shelter. Our local partner is coordinating with the Provincial Department of Social Welfare and Development to address these needs.

Bacolod City: No reports of storm damage.

Update on Vietnam

Typhoon Haiyan weakened to a tropical depression on Monday as it crossed into Vietnam. Based on initial reports, no significant damage was expected in the inland communities where ChildFund works. These program areas include Bac Kan, Hoa Binh and Cao Bang, and they are located in the remote, mountainous regions of the north. There have been reports of strong winds and rain in coastal areas, and some damage to trees and rooftops in Hanoi, where schools have been closed. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

You can help families in the Philippines with a donation to our Emergency Action Fund, and this video featuring Philippines National Director Katherine Manik has up-to-date information about what ChildFund is doing to help families in typhoon-stricken areas:

Super Typhoon Haiyan Strikes Philippines

ChildFund is closely following the path and impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda), which made landfall in Leyte, in the Philippines, Nov. 8, and is pushing west-northwest over the northern tip of Cebu Island in the Visayas as it makes it way to the South China Sea. Nearly 13 million people could potentially be affected by the storm.

Haiyan is currently packing 268 kph (166 mph) winds, making it the strongest typhoon to take aim at the Philippines all year. Meteorologists describe Haiyan as more powerful than last December’s Typhoon Bopha, which leveled villages in Mindanao, flattening homes and trees alike.

National and local government authorities began making emergency preparations earlier this week, and communities identified as directly in the typhoon’s path were issued pre-emptive evacuation warnings. Nearly a million people evacuated as the storm bore down on the islands.

ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas. Emergency response teams prepositioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents, and made arrangements with local suppliers to access food and non-food relief supplies. We are also preparing for the setup of Child Centered Spaces in the storm’s aftermath so that children will have a safe haven.

View this video update from Katherine Manik, national director for ChildFund Philippines.

 

 

Good Food Doesn’t Have to Cost Much

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Rosemary was sure she knew how to raise her children in a healthy way. She knew to feed them good food, and she knew to work hard so she could feed her five children well. When she could afford it, she would put meat on the table. “Rich children have meat all the time, and none of them are malnourished,” she believed.

Rosemary's family

Rosemary and her children.

Like many mothers in the Philippines, Rosemary thought expensive food was nutritious for her children. That’s why, as a washerwoman, she would accept as many wash loads as she could. But hand-washing laundry from neighbors in a largely low-income community doesn’t yield Rosemary much profit, and often, she found herself barely able to put food on the table, much less the variety that she believed was good for her children.

ChildFund established a “Supervised Neighborhood Play” (SNP) site in her community in 2011, which taught community members about early childhood development — emphasizing nutrition, activities and parenting methods that help infants and toddlers develop healthy cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. In Rosemary’s village, her sister’s front porch was the SNP center. She did not need much convincing to enroll her youngest three children.

But her excitement about this opportunity soon turned to shock when she learned that her children were malnourished. All three were underweight, Rosemary discovered at a weight and growth monitoring session.

children eating

Today, Rosemary’s children eat nutritious meals.

But Rosemary’s anxious questions were answered by the SNP volunteers, who were trained by ChildFund. She learned that she didn’t need to attempt to feed her children food that she couldn’t afford. In fact, the most nutritious food she could give her children was relatively inexpensive and widely available: moringa leaves, okra, squash, water spinach and string beans. These vegetables easily grow in the Philippines and are the prime ingredients or additives in many simple dishes.

Rosemary was thrilled to have this information.

backyard garden

A backyard vegetable garden provides healthy food for the family.

“I was excited to try the nutritious dishes I learned to prepare at SNP parenting sessions,” she says. And instead of buying vegetables at the market, the SNP program helped her start her own backyard vegetable plot by providing her with the seedlings she needed. Meanwhile, her children were also given vitamin supplements to hasten their recovery. Growing her own vegetables helps Rosemary defray food expenses, allowing her to better support her elder two sons in school.

Enrolling her children in home-based ECD services has proved pivotal to Rosemary’s family.

“My children are learning, and staying healthy,” she says. “I’m excited to see them growing taller.”

Marialyn Works Her Way Back to School

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Each morning, Marialyn wakes to the voices of fishermen returning from a night at sea. A cool ocean breeze carries the scent of salt and brine through the slatted bamboo floor of her home, which is built on stilts in a Philippines seaside community, keeping her family safe from all but the largest of ocean swells.

Filipino teen

Marialyn lives in a coastal village in the Philippines.

The eldest of three siblings, 17-year-old Marialyn helps her younger brothers get ready for school. But Marialyn herself won’t be going. She’s heading to work, a necessity because her family has a hard time supporting itself without her income.

Jerwin, Marialyn’s 14-year-old brother, is sponsored through ChildFund, which has helped him stay in school. But Marialyn, who was in college studying for an education degree, has taken a break from school to work. She started out at a cannery, tedious and sometimes dangerous work that doesn’t pay well.

In the Philippines, 5.5 million children and youth between ages 5 and 17 participate in some form of work. More than half — 3 million — are engaged in hazardous labor. In 2002, the International Labour Organization launched the World Day Against Child Labour, set annually on June 12, to call attention to the millions of children and teens who work.

ChildFund has been engaged in direct interventions against the worst forms of child labor for years now. In many cases, ChildFund has prevented children and youth from remaining or falling into hazardous forms of child labor and human trafficking, helping them return to school. We’ve also worked with communities to develop safer and more stable ways to help families earn money.

teens screenprinting shirts

The youth in the ChildFund-supported Pintado cooperative have learned to screenprint T-shirts.

Marialyn no longer works at the cannery because of one of the programs ChildFund supports: the Pintado cooperative.

“ChildFund had initiated training for T-shirt printing in my community, and I thought I’d make myself useful and try,” Marialyn says. The thought of learning a trade that employed her creativity, as opposed to labor at the cannery, was appealing. She found herself easily taking to the craft, and she also learned other skills necessary for entrepreneurs, such as bookkeeping. Before long, Marialyn and other young people in similar circumstances had assembled the cooperative.

teens show T-shirt

Teens show the result of their work: a screenprinted T-shirt.

Pintado’s first client was ChildFund and its local partner, printing T-shirts for staff to wear. This venture turned out well, and soon more orders for shirts were coming in. Pintado’s members learned to apply their screen-printing techniques on more kinds of fabrics, and they began to print canvas tote bags. As bookkeeper, Marialyn keeps track of orders, materials and operating expenses. She has to be certain the numbers add up.

Pintado began earning a profit, and Marialyn and her peers made their first paychecks. Marialyn bought groceries for her family, and business has remained brisk. She also found herself saving a little money for her return to school.

Marialyn is determined to return to college the next school year. She’s applied for a scholarship, and the money she saves from Pintado will fund her upkeep at school. “I want to finish my education so I can be a teacher and help others learn,” she says.

Clean Water: A Learning Essential for Southern Philippines School

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

World Water Day is held annually on March 22 to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

It’s quiet in the neighborhood around Nabilid Elementary School. The school sits amid a small community of 10 houses and a sari-sari store that sells packets of instant noodles, soda and junk food. The peace is only broken by the roar of an occasional jeepney bus, carrying children and their adult guardians to and from school in this section of the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.

classroom with adults and children

Nabilid Elementary School, in the Philippines, lacked a functional water system until recently.

Amid the dust and black exhaust, passengers have to cover their noses and mouths with handkerchiefs. Thirsty children walk straight to the school’s canteen after arriving, seeking something to drink.

Because the school’s water system doesn’t work properly, children go for artificially flavored juices or cola, which are cheaper than juice. Nabilid’s water taps were installed incorrectly, so mud gurgles from them.

Lacking funding to correct the plumbing problem, the school is forced to ration water collected in large drums, but soon this situation is set to improve.

ChildFund has a long-standing partnership with Nabilid Elementary, supporting early childhood development programs, child-friendly teaching methods, teacher training, peer mentoring among older students and stocking of learning materials and books for students. “Nabilid’s made good with ChildFund’s support, adopting ECD in their curriculum and developing their faculty,” says Marlene, a ChildFund Philippines staff member. “ChildFund recognizes, however, how water is specifically crucial to the success of our efforts here.” This is why ChildFund is installing a clean and functional water system at Nabilid.

outdoor sink

A new water system is being installed at the school.

Marlene is monitoring the progress of the water system’s construction at Nabilid and five other schools in the southern Philippines. “Though seemingly oblique, providing a safe water supply is in fact crucial to ECD services at schools,” Marlene says. Activities like hand-washing and personal hygiene education, as well as and some parent-education activities like nutritious food preparation, become difficult without water.

“Completion of the water supply systems in these five areas alone will benefit a total student population of 20,000 boys and girls,” Marlene notes. Nabilid’s new water system is expected to be fully functional by the end of March.

The school administration is appreciative of the progress and matches ChildFund’s contribution by committing labor and some construction supplies. ChildFund’s local partner agency will also help the school design common sinks just the right height for younger children. The School Governance Council has also pledged to maintain the water system once it’s in place.

ECD sessions continue while the Philippines’ older students are on summer break, which began in mid-March and continues through May. Over these months, Nabilid’s teachers expect more heat and dust. Once the water starts flowing, though, children will have a school environment that’s more conducive to learning.

Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.

A Sister Among Mothers

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

“Not today, Sister,” the woman whispered to Jo-anne. They had the street to themselves, but the woman spoke in hushed tones. “You shouldn’t go today,” she repeated.

A nun in front of art painting in the Philippines

Sister Jo-anne’s love for children has won the respect of local mothers, who now welcome and watch over her.

Jo-anne understood the advice. Danger was afoot, according to the woman, who is a member of the Tausug indigenous communities in the southern Philippines. Jo-anne is a nun who works for a local organization that partners with ChildFund.

Jolo is the largest island in the Sulu archipelago, which comprises the southernmost tip of the Philippine Islands. There, rolling hills give way to pristine coastlines of crystal clear water and fine white sand. In the provincial capital, also named Jolo, the exotic durian fruit is found in such abundance that a mere breath of air yields a trace of the fruit’s distinct yet controversial smell (imagine garlic plus old garbage).

Despite Jolo’s beauty, the island is not a tourist destination because of abductions and frequent clashes between government and armed groups. Private investors and even development agencies have withdrawn to the safety and convenience of cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro in nearby Mindanao.

Jo-anne was born in the Mindanao mainland. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a public school teacher. Growing up in a community of Christians and Muslims, she developed an appreciation for different beliefs and cultures. Jo-anne worked as a government agricultural technologist for five years until 1999, when she decided to join a religious order.

As a nun, Jo-anne served in different provinces in Mindanao. Her assignment to Jolo in 2011 as a project manager posed unique challenges.

Jo-anne had to learn the Tausug language and its culture, which is different from the mainland’s. “Children were my first tutors in the local language,” she says.

Another concern was safety. On her commute to work, Jo-anne often saw curious crowds flocking to fresh crime scenes. Other times, the motorcycle taxi driver would share news of an armed clash between government and militia the night before. “That kind of thing always used to scare me,” she says. “It came to a point where I confronted myself, asking if I would let fear keep me from my work.”

Working in partnership with ChildFund did much to help Jo-anne allay her fears. “ChildFund’s reputation for working in some of the most difficult circumstances in the Philippines lends me much credibility,” she says.

Also, Jo-anne’s work with Tausug children endeared her to their families, particularly mothers, who grew protective of her. When possible, one or two mothers accompany Jo-anne when she travels to rural villages to visit ChildFund project sites or the homes of sponsored children.

Sometimes, Jo-anne hears, “Not today, Sister. You shouldn’t go. You should stay in town today.” This is the warning mothers share whenever news of troop movements, incursions or other dangers reaches their ears. When Jo-anne is already in the field, the women make sure she is properly accompanied and escorted home or to town. Jo-anne’s thankful to be included in the local “warning chain,” despite being an outsider.

“I’ve learned being a woman in these circumstances is an advantage,” Jo-anne says. “The Tausug regard women highly, mothers particularly.” Though Jo-anne has chosen a religious life, the Tausug mothers identify with her because she has devoted herself to the wellbeing of their children.

Today Jo-anne continues to travel all over Jolo. She remains cautious, but because of this web of protection, she is no longer as scared.

“When I arrive home at the end of the day, I exclaim my thanks, not for making it back safely, but for the mothers who’ve adopted me as one of their own.”

In the Philippines, Children Learn With Paper Shoes

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

In this small agricultural village in Eastern Luzon, children below schooling age don’t own closed-toe shoes. In many low-income communities across the Philippines, pragmatism leads children to wear flip-flops, which are relatively inexpensive and remarkably durable. Even when their parents can afford a pair of shoes, children still go about their casual business in flip-flops, preserving their shoes for school, church or other formal occasions.

Many young people in this village, much like other parts of the country, will own their first pair of shoes only when they begin school, where shoes are part of the uniform.

Children attend preschool in the Philippines.

Children attend a Supervised Neighborhood Play program in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, on the porch of a small home in this village, children younger than 5 learn to tie their shoes long before they ever own any. These children attend a home-based Early Childhood Development (ECD) program ChildFund supports in areas unreached by government day care centers. Home-based ECD sites like this are known as Supervised Neighborhood Play (SNP) centers, staffed by local volunteers. They are not professional day care workers or educators, but ChildFund trains them to be effective and innovative.

Innovate is just what Mabeth did. The SNP volunteer started with rolls of colored paper, felt markers and all the creativity she could pool together to make her front porch a learning environment for children. She hung paper cut-outs illustrating animals and objects that correspond to letters in the alphabet. In place of printed charts describing parts of the body, Mabeth’s front porch has hand-drawn illustrations. Mobiles hang from the ceiling describing different emotions children experience, such as happy, sad, and scared.

paper shoe with laces

A paper shoe helps children learn how to tie laces.

One cardboard box stores all the children’s shoes — shoes made from paper. They have a double-layer of colored paper for a sole and a loop of paper on top. Colored string is used for laces. “Poor children [in this neighborhood] often don’t have shoes, and I feel it’s important they learn to tie their laces like other children do,” Mabeth says.

Children at this SNP site may not yet own closed-toe shoes, but the innovation of ChildFund volunteers helps make sure they have many opportunities for development early in their childhood.

Preparation Saves Families From Typhoon Bopha

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

woman with emergency food stocks

ChildFund’s local partner pre-positioned goods and supplies in preparation for Typhoon Bopha.

Rice, biscuits, canned goods and bottled water sold briskly at the local supermarket in Malita, Philippines, as Typhoon Bopha approached the islands in early December. Food supplies would have to last days, possibly weeks. This, at least, is what panic-buyers reasoned as they crowded the store. Many families could not store much, however, as they would need to haul all their essentials to designated evacuation centers. But time was on their side, as authorities had called for families to evacuate two full days before the typhoon would strike on Dec. 4.

children crossing footbridge

This suspension footbridge spans a gap left by typhoon Washi in December 2011. Vehicles are pulled across on a raft, one-at-a-time, and cargo can be hauled across via a basket and pulley. This stopgap measure endured Typhoon Bopha.

Malita is a town in Davao Oriental, on the eastern seaboard of Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. No strangers to the tempests that the Pacific Ocean would occasionally send them, the residents of Malita fully understood their vulnerability to typhoons, as well as the flooding and landslides often found in their wake. A 2011 typhoon, Washi, which wreaked considerable harm, was their most recent reminder of this danger, at least until Typhoon Pablo, the local name for Bopha.

The storm was forecast to cross right over northern Mindanao and past the western Visayas island group. Residents in Malita braced for the worst, supported by ChildFund and other humanitarian and government agencies that had helped them create emergency response plans. These efforts toward preparedness saved lives. Early warning systems, successful evacuations and storm shelters all helped ensure that as many people as possible were able to protect themselves from harm.

bridge after flood

ChildFund assessment teams verified that children in Mindanao weathered Typhoon Bopha safely.

ChildFund has been working in Malita for 28 years now and deeply understands the local community’s geographical risks. ChildFund’s local partner organization is staffed almost entirely by former sponsored children who grew up there. Partner organization manager Maribel says, “The Malita River makes the community vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Malita is also vulnerable to tsunamis from the Pacific.”

These risk factors are why ChildFund has been working with local authorities to improve disaster preparedness. ChildFund supports and complements government programs, directing efforts and resources toward supporting these measures. ChildFund’s youth association in Malita also joined a local group associated with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. There they were trained in first aid, evacuation plans, water safety and rescue. Parents of sponsored children also signed up at the barangay (village) office to assist with distributing relief supplies.

Thelma Oros, a disaster risk reduction management (DRRM) officer for Malita, says the local disaster plan is strong. “Residents of coastal communities evacuated early enough, and there was sufficient pre-positioning of food packs and medicines,” she says.

Typhoon Pablo did strike hard on Dec. 4, leaving more than 1,000 dead, 800 still missing and tens of thousands homeless, mostly in the Surigao and Compostela Valley provinces. In Malita, the conditions were not as treacherous as predicted.

“Half of ChildFund’s 26 local partners stood either directly or adjacent to the path of Typhoon Pablo, but most made it through without loss, damage or injury,” ChildFund program officer Erwin Galido says. “They prepared and they braced, but I suppose the least consolation we can draw, after surveying the damage Typhoon Pablo caused in northern Mindanao, is that our communities and partners have been spared.

You’ll Never Look at Your Toilet the Same Way Again

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Each Nov. 19, World Toilet Day is observed as reminder that 2.6 billion people lack access to toilets and proper sanitation. This year, sanitation is a particular worry in the Philippines where families have been living in a tent city for several months after floods submerged their homes.

In rural areas of the Philippines, toilets – when you can find them –
consist of just a basic bowl with no lift-up seat. These are usually made of ceramic, but among poorer communities, toilets are often made of concrete. Water closets are rare, mainly because the local water supply is irregular. Even where there’s water in the tap, many people prefer to flush manually using a pail, claiming it saves more water than a modern flush.

men walking among tent camp

ChildFund staff survey tent camps.

For 297 Filipino families currently living at the relocation tent city at Marianville, located in the Laguna province town of Bay [Ba-e], even the rough, concrete toilets would be preferable, as the camp’s makeshift latrines offer only rudimentary sanitation.

Heavy monsoon rains inundated the Philippine capital of Manila and surrounding locales in early August. Floodwater from Manila drained into Laguna Lake, south of the capital, swelling it to dangerous levels. Simultaneous with Manila’s recovery, towns like Bay were submerged in water, chest-deep in many areas. Rice fields became lakes and homes drowned in water that quickly turned dark and septic as the flood lingered. Many families had no choice but to evacuate to designated shelters. From there, they were moved to tent camps where they’d wait out the floods, which would recede in the sun, but would quickly fill again when it rained.

young girls holding hands

Young girls are taught simple safety steps.

Many children reside in the tent community at Marianville. For the past several months, ChildFund has responded with emotional and psychological support activities through Child-Centered Spaces set up at the camp. Children’s safety and protection remains paramount as families endure the long wait to return home.

ChildFund staff inspect latrines

Although latrines at relocation camps are spartan, ChildFund works to ensure they are safe for children.

ChildFund’s focus on child protection is doubly important in irregular circumstances such as disaster, according to Hubert Par, a ChildFund sponsor relations officer who also serves on the Emergency Response Team. “Children are especially vulnerable in crowded tent camps, particularly as the toilets are common [not private], and are often constructed from available materials,” Par says.

Since summer, ChildFund has worked with its local partner to train first responders, local authorities and youth volunteers to educate children and families living in the tent community on simple steps for keeping children safe, especially when nature calls.

ChildFund has worked with camp managers to make sure separate latrines were set up for males and females, with neither facility located more than 50 meters from the camp proper. “We also made sure camp managers and residents kept the discipline of never sending a child to the restrooms alone. Children should be accompanied by a caregiver when going to the common latrines,” says Par. “We also inform them of mechanisms by which they can report any child protection issues that may arise,” he adds.

Kerzon, 16-year-old youth volunteer, has become a strong advocate for child protection, in addition to his daily response work in the camp, and his duties as a local youth council representative. “As a Child-Centered Space volunteer, I’m proud not just of being able to help, but also because I’m able to share practical knowledge, specifically about child protection,” he says.

Although families long to return to and repair their homes, flood levels remain up to 3 feet deep in Bay. Although the comfort of home and a private restroom must wait, ChildFund is working to ensure that the camp’s plywood and plastic common latrines are safe for children.

If you would like to help children around the world who lack a proper toilet, please consider a gift to the Children’s Greatest Needs fund.

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