The Children of Typhoon Haiyan: Tales of Resiliency, Heroes and Recovery – Part 1

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 David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor

Philippines

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.

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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. 

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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.

After Typhoon Haiyan: Giving Children a Safe Place to Play

RobbieMcIntyre

 Robbie McIntyre, Humanitarian Information & Communications Officer

Philippines

December 11, 2013

“These children really love to sing, and it makes them smile” says Hanna, a 16-year-old volunteer at a Child Friendly Space in Mayorga, on the island of Leyte, which was badly hit by typhoon Haiyan one month ago.

“A lot of their houses were destroyed, and it has been a very upsetting time for them, but here they get the chance to play games like volleyball, to sing and to just be with other children.”

The children’s singing prowess goes without saying, as they belt out a hearty rendition of Jingle Bells for their visitors whilst one of the staff who run the CFS accompanies them on the harmonica. Some of us try to match them with a somewhat less assured version of Away in a Manger, but despite a generous round of applause from the amused children, we are altogether less tuneful and easy on the ear.

 

Beginning to rebuild

Using basic materials like bamboo and tarpaulins, the community in Mayorga built the Child Friendly Space themselves, and it has proved invaluable as it allows children to play together in a safe place whilst their parents attempt to get on with rebuilding their lives. The Child Friendly Space’s veritable treasure trove of a toy box includes board games, skipping ropes, volleyballs and footballs for the children, which have proved incredibly popular, the football being punted around with such enthusiasm that the stitching has started to come loose. It is clear that for many of the children, the frightening power of the 173mph typhoon winds ripping through their community is still fresh in their minds, but being looked after by our passionate volunteers and getting a chance to be around other children is helping them cope with and assimilate their experiences.

SavetheChildren_Haiyan_blog_Dec_2013Hanna is brilliant with the children, encouraging them to break out into song and leading the way whenever they forget the words. She does an incredible job, but feels privileged to be able to help in her time off before she returns to college in January. “I have experience of teaching children, so Save the Children trained me up to be able to volunteer in this Child Friendly Space. I come here every day and I really enjoy it. It’s just good to be able to do something to help.”

 

Providing more safe spaces for children

Save the Children has already set up more than 25 Child Friendly Spaces on the island of Leyte, reaching more than 2,000 children like those at the one in Mayorga, and training 75 volunteers like Hanna to look after them and run the sessions. Ten more Child Friendly Spaces will soon be set up in Ormoc, to the east of the island. It’s a simple and yet powerful way to give children who have been through a hugely distressing experience the much needed opportunity to express themselves and play with the sort of carefree abandon that every child should.