Early morning one day in August, we picked up Nadia, a sponsor who has been supporting Ariane and her community for more than a year now, by raising funds with her local karate club back in Italy. Although Nadia came all the way from Italy, I did not see a hint of tiredness on her face. Our two-hour drive to reach Ariane’s community was filled with stories between Nadia and Save the Children staff, talking about our many differences, and even more similarities.
When we finally got to our destination, we were greeted by cheerful teachers and a curious group of students. Though the teachers were expecting us, none of the children knew about our visit, except for one – Ariane. Her parents later revealed that she had been very eagerly waiting for this day to happen, when she would finally meet her sponsor.
Ariane is 7 years old and is growing up in a secluded, rural village in Sarangani, a province with a 230 kilometer coastline at the southernmost tip of Mindanao island. She is a bit shy, but nonetheless eager to learn in school. Her parents both work as tenant farmers, earning only a minimal wage which is barely enough for their family of five. She is among the many students in her school that Save the Children helps through its sponsorship program.
Though she had received letters from Nadia, and seen photos of her in those letters, it was the first time Ariane had met a foreigner up close, so she was initially a bit hesitant. Nadia warmed her up by showing her photos of the other members of the karate club. Ariane slowly became more comfortable and soon enough, they were smiling and taking photos together.
The school was so excited for Nadia’s visit that they prepared a bounty of fresh fruits and other local food, including freshly harvested coconuts. All of us, including Ariane and her family, shared an extravagant meal of locally produced rice, corn, fish, chicken and vegetables.
Shortly after that, we went to Ariane’s classroom where a story was being read to the students by their teacher. The storybooks provided by Save the Children are written in the local language, making it easier for the pupils to understand the content and allow them to actively participate during the discussions. A big part of sponsorship programs in the Philippines is spreading the use of mother tongue-based multilingual education, meaning teaching in children’s’ first languages rather than in the national language, Filipino, which is not necessarily spoken by families in these remote areas.
Trying my best to sum up a reflection on this experience, one word kept emerging – inspiration. Inspiration is contagious, and I saw it spread among the people I met through this day. Nadia and the members of her karate club back in Italy were inspired by stories of children who are in need. Nadia’s visit inspired Ariane to see more of the world and to fulfil her ambition of becoming a doctor. Ariane’s parents got inspired to keep her in school, and I, as a Save the Children staff, saw the connection between the sponsor and the child and it inspired me to reminisce the value of the work we do.
In one of the southern parts of the Philippines where Save the Children works, you will find the colorful tribe of the T’bolis. Upon visiting their community, you will notice the assortment of distinctive and colorful clothing against the green backdrop of the hills. The native clothes of the tribe, made of T’nalak, make the brown complexion of the people shine.
A group of young girls wearing their T'nalak to school.
The T'nalak cloth comes from the leaves of abaca, dyed and meticulously weaved. The intricate interlacing of bold colors is a recognized community craft. The cloth is revered and can be seen in special ceremonies throughout a person’s life span, such as child births and weddings.
The typical T'boli textile is history in itself. The unique patterns of the costumes are born from deep-rooted rituals that are passed from generation to generation. The weaving is a tedious job and would take women several months to finish one complete design. The patterns conceived by the weavers are believed to be imparted to them in dreams from their ancestors and from the spirit of the abaca called Fu Dalu. Because of this, the T’nalak makers are also known as the “dream weavers”.
Only women are allowed to lace the T’nalak. Men are forbidden to handle the abaca fiber until the weaving process is complete. There is also a saying that the weaver should not couple with her husband during the weaving time because it may cause the abaca to break or destroy the design sent across a dream.
Two young girls from lake Sebu are encouraged to wear their traditional costumes at lea.
T’boli communities observe the T'nalak festival annually in July, during the foundation anniversary of their province of South Cotabato. During this festivity, colorful street dancing can be seen throughout the cities with performers decked in native costumes of the various tribal groups.
As a people who value rich cultural heritage, T’boli women and men learn to adorn themselves with their native costumes from early childhood. Aside from their wonderful T’nalak outfits, men wear turbans and women are garlanded with hair accessories, combs, and colorful beads. In their very simple lifestyle, these traditional adornments markedly stand out and are a source of community pride.
Former Save the Children – Sponsored Child from 1991-2009
In 2008, when my friends and I were in our senior year in high school, we gathered for one of our bonding moments. We were about to graduate in March of that year, and we talked about our plans for the future. Some planned to go to college, while some did not. A number of us had to stop studying to look for a job. I was one of those who planned to look for a job since my family was not doing well financially. We are eight in the family, including my parents. My father is a family driver and my mother does the house chores and takes good care of us.
Loreen in 2009
My friends and I dreamt of attending well-known universities and declared that would take the entrance exams. I, for one, told myself that someday I would be able to study in De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, the second most expensive college in the Philippines. All of us knew though that our dreams were far from reality and, usually, we just laughed about it.
Imagine my surprise when, by some miracle, I did make it into De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. It was unbelievable! I never expected that this could happen to me! And I owe it to Save the Children.
Five years later, here I am, a proud graduate who completed the course of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Major in Computer Application. The journey to reach this end was not easy. This course made me cry a lot. It was hard but still, I kept going. I knew the value of education; Save the Children taught me that. This is why I kept on.
Last July 6, 2013 we had our commencement exercises. My parents, relatives and friends were so proud of me and so was I. I am really proud, happy, satisfied and truly thankful for this greatest achievement in my life.
I owe my future to Save the Children, who taught me so much and who kept me on the right track. Now, as I enter the real world, I promise that I will do my very best to build a better future for me and my family. Also, I promise that once I have reached my dreams, I will also help other people so that they can also fulfill their dreams. I will help them just as Save the Children helped me.
I am truly grateful to Save the Children, may your organization continue to help and save the future of each child who is in need of your presence!
Love. If there is a single word that best describes what I witnessed during my visit to the Philippines last week, then that’s it. Love of family. Love of community. Love of people. Love of life.
So what better day than Valentine’s Day to celebrate the dedication, perseverance and, of course, love between the communities, families and children in the parts of the country that were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan? I would also like to mention a specific passion that came up over
David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor
January 10, 2014
Part 3: The Child Friendly Space as a one-stop resource centre for prevention of child labour and exploitation
The child friendly space is so designed not only as a safe space for children to play and get support, but as a “one stop centre” for children and their families, parents and caregivers addressing a host of protection issues. People were coming into some communities and offering work for those less than 18 years of age in towns and communities outside of those affected by the typhoon. Although this might seem like a good option for some families that had completely lost their livelihoods, we used the child friendly space as a resource centre to raise awareness about risky migration, and the perils of child labour and exploitation that many children and adolescents unwittingly fall prey to.
A group of children gather in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall
Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
Additionally, as it was difficult for everyone to access the child friendly spaces immediately, another important initiative was to train as many community volunteers in protecting children and psychosocial first aid as possible. This would allow children from their respective villages to receive support as we sort out the logistics of getting the child friendly spaces to them.
Tacloban City itself was already known as an area with existing issues of child sexual exploitation. We were concerned in these early weeks that the impact of Typhoon Yolanda might exacerbate this situation and one of my first contacts in those early days was with the Women and Children’s Protection Desk of the Filipino National Police, who were female officers with special skills and training in addressing sexual and gender-based exploitation and abuse.
A few reports had surfaced that underage girls were being offered as prostitutes, and anti-trafficking and prevention messaging on sexual and gender based violence were issues discussed with much urgency in the protection and gender based violence (GBV) clusters. To combat this problem, UNHCR and local partners had established surveillance systems at the airport and seaports of Tacloban and Ormoc. For our own part, we highlighted the necessity of establishing safe spaces for adolescent girls and women as part of our community-based approach to protection and that communities needed to be particularly vigilant in monitoring and reporting any potential situation of trafficking or other forms of violence against girls. An additional element to the strategy was to effectively engage men and boys in prevention of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.
Although there were immediate concerns that needed to be met, we were already beginning to think long term. From a protection perspective, this meant being more than service provider but strengthening the overall systems in the Philippines. Early on in the response, I participated in some very basic capacity building sessions with Department of Social Welfare personnel from over 30 municipalities and linking them to affected communities. This also meant that as an organisation we did not fall prey to the “tarmac effect” or programming only in communities that were close to main urban areas.
Towards the end of my time in Leyte, I travelled to Ormoc where we had a small team present. While the damage was not as bad, we discovered that some areas were perhaps even more impoverished and incredibly vulnerable. In some areas, out of school rates among adolescents was already high and many were working in seasonal agriculture. With much of the agricultural livelihood destroyed, adolescents were vulnerable to undertaking risky migration in search of work—the social tolerance and acceptance of this was palatable in the region. So, too, many young mothers migrate to Manila or Cebu in search of work—primarily as domestic help—leaving their children behind which can set up a situation of inappropriate care. These were also issues of concern in eastern Leyte, and cognizant of this—and the fact that there is a small window of opportunity to address this—it was of paramount importance that awareness and other prevention work begin immediately.
This child protection work cannot stand alone. A child who feels protected is one that is well both emotionally and physically. This means access to psychosocial first aid, education, food, water and shelter. As such, I wanted to ensure that in communities with child friendly spaces, schools would still be prioritised, and conversely that school curriculums provided psychosocial first aid and spread protection messages. Child friendly spaces should also have safe drinking water and toilet facilities, and children attending our sessions should not come in hungry.
All in all, it was an exhausting experience, both mentally and physically. But at the end of the day, we met our target of reaching over 100,000 beneficiaries in those early weeks, providing them with basic protection, temporary shelter, food and non-food items such as household and hygiene, education, water, sanitation, food security and livelihood rebuilding.
I think there were many of us with our own moving stories of blood, sweat and tears, but as I left Leyte—surely a number of kilos lighter and having not stopped working for 30 days—I reminded myself of this resiliency and those poignant moments of at least being a part of helping to restore a bit of dignity and well-being to the lives of children.
David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor
January 8, 2014
Part 2: The heroes that risked their lives to save others, and the heroes that served others despite their situation
Psychosocial support initiatives for children was needed in so many communities that it became rather difficult to make decisions on where to establish programmes. To ensure that all the communities in need were reached, we coordinated with other actors such as aid agencies, local and national government departments.
In Tacloban City, many displaced children were staying in evacuation centres—mostly schools and other larger centres that had all been damaged to some extent, yet offered a roof, or partial one, under which to sleep. Work in the evacuation centres was being coordinated through the City Social Welfare Department and there were plans to utilize day care centre workers with the tasks of operating child friendly spaces. But many of the day care centre workers were, of course, themselves affected and were also putting the pieces of their lives back together. We began with some simple measures to set up child friendly spaces in evacuation centres with the support of teachers and other community volunteers.
Panaloran School in Tacloban was one such evacuation centre. On the morning of Typhoon Yolanda, it housed up to 70 children and numerous families. The school yard looked like a battle zone, yet the main building itself had withstood a large brunt of the storm. The same families that had sheltered there in preparation for the storm were still residing in the few classrooms. I met many heroes during my time in Leyte—their selfless actions saved the lives of countless children—but I particularly remember the poignant stories from a man named Oscar in Panaloran School.
Oscar, a community member in Tacloban stands in front of a school where he, his wife and 30 community members took shelter during Typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
Oscar and the others at the school were in a ground level classroom on the morning of the storm. They anticipated the high winds but few had any inkling of the storm surge that would accompany it. As it became apparent that the water was going to rise above their heads, they moved to the second floor of the building despite greater risk of debris flying through the air. But the strength of the water currents made it impossible for them to open the classroom door. Oscar broke open one of the windows and each person scrambled out through it; children were carried through the window to waiting adults on the other side. Oscar was the last one out.
The children at the school were the saddest I had witnessed in my first few days. We quickly mobilized the adults at the school; provided them with protective gear and provided cash for work for the clean-up of the school. This was the most amazing community—by the time I had returned in the afternoon, the school had been cleared almost entirely of dangerous debris; a small classroom that was ankle deep in mud and other debris had been cleared and was being prepared for a child friendly space and temporary learning space. Most gratifyingly, the children wore smiles on their faces and looked happy; this only in anticipation that a small space for them was being established and they would have a place to be with their friends and could engage in some fun activities. In other words, a chance to take their mind off of the horror that surrounded them.
It was Oscar’s wife, a teacher herself, who led most of the activities for children in those early days. This was a woman who was badly affected herself, but gave her time to the children instead of salvaging her belongings and rebuilding her home. The children always came first.
Oscar’s wife, a teacher at the school her and her husband took shelter in during the storm, stands with one of the children her husband saved. She is now living at the school with her husband, Oscar, after their home was badly damaged by the Typhoon. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
As activities went on, I saw even more smiles on the faces of children the next day as they played with their friends and held cuddly soft toys. The scene at Panaloran School was one repeated over and over again in villages, communities and towns.
David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor
January 6, 2014
Part 1: Mass graves, widespread losses, and begging children
Two main issues weighed heavily on my mind as the plane landed in Tacloban five days after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through Eastern Visayas.
Firstly, it was the prospect of unaccompanied and separated children. With dead bodies lining the streets, we assumed that we would be documenting many cases of children unaccompanied or who have lost their parents in the storm.
A set of swings in a playground in Tacloban are destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
The other was the physical safety and psychosocial well-being of children in the aftermath of such a large scale disaster that left so many displaced and impacted. Death and the loss of shelter affected almost everyone.
While fortunately there were few cases of children separated from their families – and for this I acknowledge the strong Filipino family structure and disaster preparedness, the physical hazards for children and adults were everywhere. Planks of wood with rusty nails; shredded sheets of corrugated tin roofing, downed electrical wires; and smashed windows and glass were littered everywhere. In villages, fallen coconut trees created obstacle courses of movement and even the air in many places was thick with smoke as people burned piles of debris.
With schools obviously not being opened—and badly damaged if not completely obliterated—and adults so preoccupied with salvaging what they could, rebuilding their homes or temporary shelters and trying to restore their livelihoods, children in the thousands were left with little in the way of structure and routine and in many cases roamed aimlessly around their community. Along the highway south of Tacloban city, hundreds of children begged for food and money.
This posed an extremely dangerous situation for children, who scrambled for coins or food that was tossed out of passing car windows, and I used my time in the field doing assessments to hold brief awareness raising sessions with barangay and municipality authorities, groups of parents and even with children themselves on the risks of physical harm as well as the dangers of trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Along with other aid agencies and government departments, discussions on common awareness messages on protection were developed and disseminated.
Assessing the situation of children’s psychosocial well being was a major task in the initial phases of the Haiyan response efforts. Overwhelmingly, children seemed to be making sense and coming to terms with the disaster. Many children expressed fears associated with high winds and water and other aspects that brought back memories of when the typhoon struck. However, most children seemed to be in a state perhaps best described as “numbness” or “shock” but with few signs of extensive change in behaviours.
Children play in a school yard near mass graves in Leyte Island. The school was badly damaged during the typhoon and children had no structured activities to play or learn. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
It was a very different picture, however, as you moved into communities that were more extensively damaged and where the death toll, even among children, was higher. In communities where so many died there was hardly space to bury the dead and large mass graves were established. In one community, hundreds were buried in front of the Catholic Church, which had become the temporary office space for the barangay captain.
As we talked one morning, the barangay captain, obviously sleep deprived and dealing with tremendous grief, fought back tears as he told me about so many of his friends that he had lost and how the village was completely devastated. As I rested my hand on his shoulder for comfort, he pointed to the mass graves in front where many children played: “Please if you can help the children of my community,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks, “we have no school and children have nowhere to go, so they come to this graveyard and play; many of their own friends are buried there and some are still missing.”
Save the Children established a Child Friendly Space—a safe space for children to gather, play, have time for social interaction with their friends, engage in non-formal learning activities and to receive psychosocial support—in this and many other communities like it.
When it comes to aid workers responding to mass disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, there isn’t much sexy about being the logistics guy.
But when you need to get stuff done, he makes it happen.
Seasoned aid worker Steve Wells manages the vital role in Save the Children’s rapid response team, which was deployed to Roxas on the island of Panay, one of the worst affected areas in the Philippines.
Steve sourced vehicles for our assessment of the northeast coastline, organised a makeshift office with wifi in a town with no power, and arranged for plane after plane transporting aid to come to the island.
He booked trucks and recruited staff for the distribution, planning every intricate detail to ensure the delivery could happen.
“It’s all well and good to have funds to provide relief in emergencies, but if you can’t make those donations work given the situation on the ground, there’s no point,” he said.
“For me, when I come to a scene of devastation like the one we found in Panay, it’s about making connections with the people who can help you out. They are incredible assets when you aren’t familiar with a place.
“We also want to source as much of our materials and products locally to support the local economy and get more bang for our buck, while making sure not to undermine the local economy.”
Steve works late into the night at the humanitarian coordination centre he helped to set up, and which is based in the provincial office building. He cooperates with other organisations about sharing resources or to get advice.
More often than not however, they are looking to him for guidance.
Steve’s been in the ‘logs’ business for almost a decade, having been deployed all over the world including to Sri Lanka for the tsunami and civil war, to Pakistan during the floods and to Mali during the famine.
Here in Panay, he’s the one that gets stuff done.
“Sourcing and distributing emergency kits in a disaster like this one is a complicated process and there are a lot of people involved,” he said.
“Here in Panay, once we set up our base, we’ve been able to transport aid onto the island from various parts of the Philippines, find a warehouse to store the kits and recruit volunteers and staff to help with mass distributions.
“It’s all about making sure we provide the aid as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible to meet the needs of thousands of vulnerable families.”
During the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda Friday the 8th, I experienced a level of uneasy and concern I rarely do. I wasn’t in the most affected areas but still I couldn’t sleep. I told myself that it was just another typhoon. Aside from the fact that I had a team of colleagues in Tacloban, I was equally concerned about my family and relatives in Leyte. No news on Saturday. This was already raising my adrenalin and I knew that we needed to act fast. I decided to go to Leyte with a colleague and what I saw and found affected my emotions, my spirit and professional mission as a humanitarian worker.
Day 1: Into Darkness
The trip to Ormoc on Leyte Island via fast craft was the first step. On the trip to Ormoc passengers were already organizing themselves into groups and identifying who to go with to Tacloban for security and safety purposes. Docking into Ormoc, you get an eerie feeling and my heart was pounding. It was a city in darkness. Going with the group suddenly fizzled out. Road was inaccessible to medium and large vehicles. We took the ‘habal-habal’ a motorbike ride to Jaro, Leyte were my family live. My heart was pounding. I wanted to know if my father was ok. I wept quietly and embraced him when he came out and saw him. It was one flicker of hope against the darkness of evil and destruction. As daylight struck we saw the destruction brought by Yolanda. I immediately started working.
Day 2: Flicker of Hope
On the second day of our journey we stopped by in Palo and the stench of death was in the air. A mass grave within the church grounds was made and 60 unidentified bodies were laid to rest. We met one of our team members who is from Palo and was glad to see that he and his family were ok. We planned our entry to Tacloban. Since we were short on fuel, only one motorbike was available. I told Allan to look into possibilities of getting fuel in Palo while I head out into Tacloban. Our objective was to provide much needed food and supplies to the team in Tacloban city. I also wanted to know how my brother and family were doing.
As we drew closer to Tacloban the damage was staggering and the stench of death stronger. There were a lot of people roaming in the streets, people looting Robinsons and the commercial store beside it. There were police and military but they were spread thin along the highway and could do nothing. I tried to search for my brother. The landmarks were gone. It made it more difficult to find their place. I walked inside side streets where mud and electric posts and wire blocked the road. Finally I located my brother alive and well. It was a heartwarming embrace with the whole family and I was ever thankful that they were safe and we started to plan their exit from the destroyed city. Since transport is a problem they decided to exit Tacloban the next day and take their chances in riding the C130 in Tacloban airport. They would have to walk all the way to the airport, several kilometers among debris and bodies, and bring the little food and water left that they could gather. But it was better than to stay.
Next up I had to connect and find out how the team was doing. I knew where they were before the typhoon hit and I found them in good spirits. And part of the team had already moved towards the city center to gather information. The mission goes on. Another flicker of hope amidst a city of destruction and death…
I did a few rounds in the city and the sight was gruesome. The city was like a ghost town. There were few people clustered here and there. Warehouses and stores looted. Children huddled together while their parents tried to look for food and wash their clothes. There were small distributions of relief led by the military. While other warehouses were looted, I saw an owner of a warehouse doing distribution of relief. I also saw a volunteer from the department of health going around the side streets handing out basic medicines to those in need. The city I once knew as vivid and lively was no more. I had to head back to Palo due to a declared curfew. My driver and companion Rommel was getting scared because it was already getting dark. We wanted to maintain mobility and ensure our safety as well.
Day 3: Regaining Humanity
On my way back to Ormoc my mind was rushing and plotting out strategies on how to expedite our relief to these affected areas. I somehow must have lost humanity on my way to Tacloban. But on my return I also regained it. How? It’s dealing with the situation one day at a time. It’s doing what we can with what we have. It is knowing that we are not alone at this time of strife. It is seeing so many people both local and foreign rushing to help and do their part. It is also knowing that we belong to a family – the Save the Children family where members and supporters around the world are one with us in these dark hours. It is also knowing that media plays a critical role at this time. Our appreciation and thanks to all especially to those who chose to do what they can instead of being enmeshed into bickering and entering into the blaming game.
While the community fiber & spirit may be broken by the storm, it is still the goodness and resilience of humanity that shines.
Desperation is the only word I have to describe the scenes I witness in Tacloban. I was originally born in Tacloban and went back there as part of Save the Children’s emergency response team. It was hard for me to go back to my home town knowing there had been a disaster and what made it worse is that I may have lost relatives and have no information on their whereabouts.
The situation in Tacloban is desperate. Children and their families affected by the world’s largest storm on Friday morning have now gone five days without sufficient food and water as well as adequate shelter and medical supplies.
Desperation triggered looting as people go into survival mode. It is now rampant, and could compromise the movement of relief supplies and the safety of aid workers. Around the city, children have been asked to join the looting movement.
I saw children huddled over their few remaining possessions. Others just stare blankly ahead, their eyes telling a story of horror and hopelessness. Resilient as they are, the situation is becoming increasingly overwhelming for a population with no respite.
Photo Credit: Save the Children / Lester Joseph R. Valencia
Save the Children has been on the ground since Friday; and over the past six days it has been extremely challenging to reach affected children and their families. We are beginning some children’s activities to allow children to play with one another and just be children again. But the mobilization of bulky relief items remains a core problem.
Desperate to look for alternative routes, I travelled more than 60 miles yesterday but roads are only accessible by motorbikes and on foot. The area is still strewn with electrical posts, trees and other debris and need to be cleared urgently if we are to deliver relief goods to the hundreds of thousands that need it desperately. Local officials are scrambling to support this relief effort, but many are also working round the clock in these extremely harsh conditions.
Yet the world has not come to grips with the sheer magnitude of this disaster. Aid efforts are now focused on small but heavily populated areas and we still have a long way to go. The needs are also great in inland areas that we have not been able to reach, and in the coming days Save the Children will be working to ensure that children affected in the storm receive the support that they need.