By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
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.
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.
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.
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we check in on recovery efforts in the Philippines following a deadly typhoon last December.
It’s been more than six weeks since Typhoon Washi (known locally as Sendong) struck the Philippines Dec. 16, 2011, bringing severe flooding that damaged or destroyed nearly 52,000 houses around the island of Mindanao. More than 1,200 people lost their lives in the storm, according to the Philippines government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. An outbreak of leptospirosis (a severe bacterial infection) has claimed additional lives in the aftermath of the flooding.
During emergencies like these, ChildFund invests in psychosocial interventions for children through child-centered spaces (CCS). The intention is to mitigate the traumatic impact among children by providing normalizing and expressive activities like playing, singing, and simple arts and crafts activities.
ChildFund operated CCS activities at two storm-evacuation locations for the first two weeks following the typhoon. The response grew to six locations that are continuing to operate. More than 900 children have received support. In addition, ChildFund distributed 2,000 packs of emergency food as well as 2,000 nonfood kits (blanket, detergent, eating utensils).
Youth facilitators have been a virtual force multiplier for ChildFund’s staff operating the child-centered spaces. Twenty-six youth, already enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in the Philippines, volunteered their time over the Christmas break to lead activities for younger children.
Christine, 14, hails from a community not largely affected by Typhoon Washi. She had started enjoying the Christmas break when ChildFund’s local partner, Kaabag sa Kalumban Pinaagi sa Kabtangan sa Katilingban, came to her community inviting youth to volunteer. She signed up without a second thought. ChildFund staff oriented her and her peers as youth facilitators before taking them to the child-centered spaces.
Jam, a 13-year-old youth facilitator, says, “I wanted to spend time with the [displaced] kids, especially after what happened to them.”
Both Jam and Christine agree it was difficult at first. Many of the younger children misbehaved, but the teens stuck to their commitment of volunteering every day, even on Christmas Eve.
“We feel we’ve returned the smiles and laughs they lost, along with their homes and even loved ones, in the flood,” Christine says. “Some of them were in terror, when we first started CCS,” she adds. At the end of her volunteer time, Christine says she could see how much the children improved. “Their faces glow with sincere happiness and laughter now,” she says.
After spending their holidays as youth facilitators, Christine, Jam and their fellow volunteers returned to school in early January. To carry on CCS activities, ChildFund trained additional youth and parent volunteers who had survived the storm but were living in shelters. Training sessions began with participants processing their own survival experiences and continued with training in stress debriefing, gender-based violence concerns, games and use of other tools for child-centered spaces.
Now efforts in the Philippines are focused on the temporary or permanent relocation of the 36,000 people who remain in the 56 evacuation centers, most of which are public schools. Those who lost their homes are moving into new relocation camps. Children also are returning to school, thanks to a Department of Education mandate that allows displaced children to transfer schools without paperwork. Some adults have noted, however, that the camps are far from their former livelihoods.
ChildFund Philippines plans to conduct community-based child protection training sessions to ensure children’s needs are not overlooked during the recovery phase. In addition, ChildFund is helping families recover their livelihoods, which will be key factor in rebuilding their lives.
Following severe flooding in the Philippines, many families find themselves without a home and are struggling to return to a normal life. Today for our blog series “31 in 31,” we take a detour in our scheduled plans to visit a family in the Philippines who is just thankful to be alive.
By ChildFund Philippines Staff
Catherine and her two siblings are elementary school students. Their father is a pedicab driver and their mother works as a maid. They live in a small house, constructed of light materials alongside a river.
When Typhoon Ondoy hit, heavy rains kept the family at home that day. Around 10 a.m., the family noticed the river rising and overflowing its banks. Alarmed, Catherine and her parents and siblings started packing and trying to save their most important possessions.
But as the heavy rain continued, water quickly penetrated their house, which caused the family members to panic. The couple’s attention turned from saving their belongings to making sure their children were safe. The only way out of their house was to go onto their roof. Almost 16 hours passed before the water finally subsided. They were wet, hungry and uncomfortable.
Catherine tells ChildFund Philippines staff that she was extremely nervous and was afraid as she saw the water rising. She cried as she talked about losing her school supplies. Her father says that the experience of losing their belongings is tragic, but that life is more important than personal items. Things can be replaced, but life cannot, he says.
More on the Philippines
Population: 97.9 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 450,000 children and families
Did You Know?: More than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines, but only about 2,000 of them are inhabited.
Natural disasters create chaotic situations that put already vulnerable children in grave danger. In the past week, ChildFund International responded to two emergencies in Asia that have killed hundreds of people, destroyed homes and disrupted livelihoods.
In Indonesia, a deadly earthquake in Padang leveled schools, hospitals, businesses and homes. ChildFund Indonesia National Director Sharon Thangadurai says response has been quite slow because there are blackouts in the earthquake area, phone lines are cut and roads connecting neighboring cities are damaged.
“Our assessment team was able to reach Padang area … but they have no access to phones with the electricity being out,” Thangadurai says. “They will conduct the needs assessment and then travel to a nearby city to report back the status of the situation and what are the most critical needs for children.”
ChildFund Indonesia is currently working with the local government to establish Child Centered Spaces for displaced children.
“Our priority will be to provide the needed emotional support to children who always bear the brunt of major disasters like this,” Thangadurai says.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Super Typhoon Parma made landfall over the weekend, but the area where ChildFund works has been spared from the worst.
“Because the typhoon went more along the coastal area, there has not been significant damage in our ChildFund program area,” ChildFund Philippines National Director Dennis O’Brien says. “The damage will be manageable; however, our vulnerability is that typhoon season is still with us.”
This typhoon comes on the heels of Typhoon Ondoy, which caused severe flooding in the country. ChildFund continues to work with the local government to meet the basic needs of more than 18,000 children and families.
“We have five evacuation centers, housing 500 families, where we have set up Child Centered Spaces for children,” O’Brien says.
We will continue to update you on theses situations as information comes from the field. For the latest information and to donate to the relief updates, click here.