Vietnam: Making Sense of Cyclone Ketsana

Nick Finney, Save the Children Emergency Response Team Leader

Oct. 6, 2009.  Quang Tri, Vietnam

Nick finney_233 I’m with two colleagues on the way to Quang Tri, where the most serious reports are coming from in Vietnam.  Its 22.00 and our conversation has digressed – we’re all very tired and can’t take in much more tonight. Talk in the car is descending we’re speculating about what 'Ketsana' means. We’ve two theories – theory one, Ketsana means full moon in Filipino, theory two, Ketsana is a perfumed tree from Lao. Or maybe a perfumed cheese.

It’s good not to know and not to be able to find out and in any case I heard that Google is killing general knowledge. There’s a full moon festival this weekend – a big day for children in Vietnam. They get gifts, run around banging big drums and dress up as dragons – it looks like great fun.  Full moon festival seems to be on in the big cities like Dan and Hue, but there’s no sign of it in any of the places we visited today. Still too much to sort out and too much suffering.

Today started OK, then got quite frustrating, then confusing, then a meltdown. And then we got it together. 200 more packages distributed to families containing essential supplies – reaching approximately 1,000 people. 

Tomorrow will be crucial – I hope we got it right. We’re making a long journey and our aim will be to finalise a plan to get us into the thick of an emergency phase. By the end of the week, we hope to get aid to 5,000 more families – that’s about 15,000 children. 5,000 of them will be under five and highly vulnerable to diseases like diarrheoea and malaria.

Lots of reports today of acute respiratory infection, eye infection and skin disease following the flood. Children in affected communities in Vietnam, as ever in all emergencies, are suffering the most.

Learn more about Save the Children’s response in Vietnam.

Philippines: Children Go to School in Shifts

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Oct. 6, 2009  Manila, Philippines

Latha _233 The teams went out to do further assessments in some of the flood affected areas. I was waiting in anticipation to hear from them. Finally they got back and this is what Nida our Emergencies Adviser had to say.

“The children and the communities are still trying to clean up all the mess and the debris that is lying around. Many of the schools have started functioning but the schools also have to double up as evacuation centers. This means there is scarcity of space. We want our Child Friendly Spaces to function, we need to have space for additional toilets to be available, but there is a big constraint of space. There are three shifts per day in the schools – this means some of the children go to school at night! Many of the community members and the children were complaining that due to water logging their legs and feet have been affected by scabies and many of them have cracks on their skins.”

This was very useful information for us and we have now additionally added washing soap with higher sulphur content into the kit for the communities. There is still the challenge of dealing with the toilet facilities in the evacuation centers – what does one do? We made a few calls to other agencies to check how they are handling this situation and found that each one of us is trying o crack this one! Earlier today I went to the Johnson and Johnson office in the Philippines to sign the Memorandum of Agreement and also collect the check that they were giving us in support of the work in the typhoon response. I have been there before but this time I also heard from the many staff there that each one of them has been affected by the typhoon in some way or the other. As we were driving back my driver showed me pictures of the area where he comes from – Laguna – and these were pictures that showed rafts being used by community members to move from one place to the other. He said that he used the raft to get both his children out of the area to a much safer place.

I am excited as tomorrow I would be visiting one of the evacuation centers where the Child Friendly Spaces are functioning. Reuters wants to do a feature on the Child Friendly Space and we want to do a good feature on this. As I step out of my room I see a frenzy of activity going on in the front office – bags of rice – blankets – slippers other items for the kits all being packed and kept ready for distribution. I hear the volunteers listening to the music as they pack.

Tomorrow is another day and we ill be reaching out to many more families and children but for this we need to prepare today!

Learn more about Save the Children's response in the Philippines


Indonesia – The First Time I’ve Cried

Allison Zelkowitz, program manager, Save the Children

Oct. 5, 2009, 11:40pm, Indonesia

Allison's blog also appears on Anderson Cooper's 360 blog page.


Allison Zelkowitz It’s hard to believe I’ve only been here four days – it feels like weeks! Our team is working very long hours, both here in the field and in our coordination centers. I don’t think twice about calling or texting my team members at midnight, because I know they’ll be up for at least two more hours. The urgency of this situation keeps us going. Hundreds of thousands of people – including children – are still trying to meet their basic needs. Today I spoke to a number of women who were gathering rainwater in order to bathe and wash their clothes. Save the Children is continuing to provide shelter materials, and I saw people rigging the tarps as soon as they left the distribution post. In nearly every village, community members take turns standing by the main road, flagging down passing cars and gathering donations. Most use these funds immediately to buy food to cook communal meals.

Save the Children has reached an estimated 4,600 people in the last two days, including over 2,700 children, with family hygiene kits, household supplies, and shelter materials. But there are so many more that need help. Tomorrow we’re traveling to more remote villages northwest of here, near Lake Maninjau. Our team leader toured the area this afternoon – in some communities, every house has collapsed. We’ll do a rapid assessment of the area tomorrow morning and start distributing supplies tomorrow afternoon. 

Today, at one of the distribution sites, I spoke to a 54-year-old woman whose mother was killed in the earthquake. I didn’t expect this – there were fewer casualties in rural areas because most homes are only one story high, and people have time to escape. When she told me her story her eyes started welling up, and although I tried to suppress them, mine did as well. In the four years that I’ve been working in development and humanitarian agencies, this is the first time I’ve cried.

Learn more about Save the Children's response in Indonesia.

Philippines: A Makeshift Float for a Baby

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Oct. 5, 2009  Manila, Philippines

Latha _233 Another day of frenzied activity. More meetings to attend, packages to be delivered to the communities, plan our strategy, get more staff into the response, get the assessment teams cracking, answer emails and phone calls from donors, for partners, from other program staff, from friends….

I had a meeting with the European Commission today. Prior to the meeting, we went to pick up a colleague whose house was totally washed out by the floods.  I was so shocked by the ravaged walls and the height the water had reached. It was over 6 feet. It has been more than a week now, and still electricity is not restored. The refrigerator is not working, so food is literally managed on an every-meal basis. My colleague has spent a lot of time cleaning and salvaging belongings from the water. There is no bed, no mattress, no pillows. Everything that could be salvaged was drying—shoes, clothes, papers, photographs, documents.

At the EC meeting, one of the local staff came to offer us coffee. I asked her, “How are you and how was the floods in your area?” She paused for a moment and said, “The water level came up to the second floor of our house and we were very scared. My neighbors’ houses were at a lower level than ours and they had a baby who was only a few months old. They were very worried about the baby, so they came to our home for safety. We were all crowded into the second floor space and were praying for the water to recede. The water was swirling. We were more scared that we will not be able to save the baby. We looked around and found some of the cooking oil cans that we had moved to the second floor. We opened the cans and threw out all the oil… put together a few cans and tied them up with strings and made a small float bed to put the baby in. We tied strings to the float bed and tested to make sure we were able to hold on while swimming to safety.” She then quickly apologized and asked us if we would like some coffee and left.

Learn more about Save the Children's response in the Philippines

American Samoa – Hitting the Ground Sprinting

Josh Madfis, child protection specialist, Save the Children Samoa 

Oct. 4, 2009 – Leone, American Samoa

I arrived in American Samoa three nights ago.  I hit the ground sprinting.  My first goal was to see children affected by this disaster.  I wanted to learn from them and from the parents how they were doing.  The first thing I did Friday morning was visit a shelter in the village of Leone.  Leone was one of the hardest hit villages. The damage there reminded of what I saw in Hurricane Katrina; foundations where homes used to be, mountains of rubble and debris, churches with gaping holes. 

I was immediately moved by warmth of the Samoan people.  They are so kind and open to strangers.  They communicated their fears and worries about their children’s health, well being and future.  The kids were all over the map.  Some jazzed up by being displaced and in shelters, some sick and coughing, some withdrawn and depressed.  There will be a need to address the traumatic events many experienced.  They also needed safe places to play.  Shelters in many cases are in the center of the destruction.  They are surrounded by dangerous debris, broken glass and toxic waste.  Children have little to no clothes and shoes.  I played soccer yesterday with an 8-year-old boy wearing his dad’s old sneakers.  He did pretty well despite this!

I am working to get Child Friendly Spaces established in all the shelters and the FEMA disaster recovery center.  I would also like to get health messages to kids about where it’s safe to play and how to wash and keep their hands clean.

More to come!

Learn more about Save the Children's response in American Samoa

Indonesia – Providing Critical Supplies

Allison Zelkowitz, program manager, Save the Children

Oct. 4, 2009 Pasa Dama, Indonesia

Allison's blog also appears on Anderson Cooper's 360 blog page.

Allison Zelkowitz I’m now with a team of 12 Save the Children staff and three volunteers in the village of Pasa Dama, in the district of Padang Pariaman, about 50 kilometers north of Padang City. The earthquake devastated this area - it is the worst hit and, up until now, the least helped. Many areas have seen no relief.

This is where Save the Children will focus its humanitarian response and where we reached more than 450 families today with shelter and essential supplies.

In the last 24 hours, our team assessed 16 of the surrounding villages. We found that 70 to 95 percent of the homes have been severely damaged or destroyed. Almost everyone we spoke to was sleeping on the ground outside their homes, under makeshift tents. Children tell us they are afraid another quake will strike.

Today our team distributed tarpaulins and plastic sheeting to 458 families in two of these hard-hit villages. These items are critical — it’s been storming heavily for the last few hours, and the rains are expected to continue.

We’ve heard from both community leaders and health workers that colds and respiratory infections are on the rise especially in children since they’ve been sleeping outdoors, exposed to the elements.

Save the Children provided each of these families with 'hygiene kits,' which include soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other essentials. Each kit is enough for a family of five. Although some people were able to rescue their belongings from damaged homes, many lost everything and literally escaped with only the clothes on their backs. I’ve watched a number of families pick through the rubble, looking for anything they can still use.

I’m still shocked when I see another house that’s crumbled, or hear someone’s escape story. But I’m amazed by the local communities’ resilience. And I’m humbled by their generosity.

Our team has crowded into a young couple’s two-bedroom home to sleep it survived the quake with only small cracks in the walls. Today some villagers insisted that I sit down with them and join in their community lunch. I protested at first, but after much urging took a little rice and vegetables. And yesterday, when I was speaking with three mothers and their children inside a tent, they offered me water to drink even though all they possessed was a box of instant noodles, an oil lamp, and some bottled water! That time, I politely refused.

Learn more about Save the Children's response in Indonesia.

Philippines – The Wait Is Over

Latha Caleb, Save the Children country director, Philippines

Oct. 4, 2009  Manila, Philippines

Latha _233  The wait is over…. Typhoon Parma has smashed into the northern Philippines, missing Metropolitan Manila. So much is happening here. I have been desperately trying to get through to our contacts in northern Luzon to see what destruction the typhoon has caused. We hear that the roads are completely gone and the only way to get there is by flight. But there are no scheduled flights to that area so we have to get space on a missionary flight. So far, our attempts to get seats on the flight have failed. So we turn our attention to all that needs to be done in Manila. And there is plenty that needs to be done. The Save the Children team is out now distributing more relief supplies to the children and families who urgently need them.  And I am here in the office, pounding on my computer, answering all the e-mails that keep popping into my inbox from colleagues, supporters and others who are eager to know the latest about what we are doing to help.

On her return from the field Gia Chu, our communications manager, shared her experience with me:

I joined our team today to distribute another batch of relief items for affected families of Typhoon Ketsana in Muntinlupa. Every time I see children with their parents gather around to receive relief kits from Save the Children, I cannot help but ask myself how these children are feeling and are coping amidst this very difficult time.

Children come up to me as I walk around the evacuation centers, eager to tell me their stories.  I learned that one child rescued his younger siblings during the storm and looked after them because his parents were away. Another boy told me that he didn’t feel scared at all because his father was beside him. Two girls from an evacuation center in Cainta told me how they missed their homes and the things they lost in the flood. But all of them were very concerned about their parents who are fighting to make ends meet more than ever.

Children are resilient, sometimes even more than adults. In spite of everything that has happened to them, they are still able to laugh, sing, dance and play. Most of them can’t wait to go back to school to learn. Some take care of their younger siblings as a way to help their parents. Others help clean up their damaged houses, and collect scrap metal to sell and earn money to buy food for their family.

We need to be more like these children. There’s so much to be done, and we cannot waste time. Let’s continue working together to give children what they deserve—a world that fights for children’s survival, a world that protects them, a world that prioritizes their well-being and development, and a world that listens to them.

I can sense and feel what Gia is saying… I get back to pounding the keyboard on my computer and then I hear someone saying with excitement that one of the donors we approached has asked us for a full proposal. This means we are reasonably assured of getting some resources … this makes me feel good … only briefly…. Yes, we will be able to reach out to a few hundred  children with this money. But there are thousands more waiting for our help … we need to keep working until we have reached every last child who needs our support.


Learn more about Save the Children's response in the Philippines