Losing & Gaining Humanity: A first-hand account on my mission to Tacloban, Leyte

Edwin photo

 

Edwin Horca, Save the Children

Tacloban, Philippines

November 10-13, 2013

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.

IMG_4613As 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. 

Donate to the Typhoon Haiyan’s Children Relief Fund

 

Japan: Six Months After the Devastating Quake and Tsunami

Lane Hartill

Lane Hartill, Director of Media and Communications

Washington, D.C.

September 16, 2011 


Six months after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Save the Children is still working with thousands of children on the ground in the disaster areas. As the crisis moves from an emergency into the recovery and development phase, Save the Children has created a 5-year plan to help children and communities create an environment where children can thrive.

To find out more about our work in Japan—and our long term plans—please listen to the podcast below featuring Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles and the Chief Operating Officer of Save the Children in Japan, Eiichi Sadamatsu.


Japan: Six Months After the Earthquake and Tsunami by Save the Children

For more information, check out photos of our work and the full report:

 

Six-month report on Save the Children's Japan earthquake and tsunami Emergency response and recovery program.

Haway is Healthy

Pc field head

Penelope Crump, Web Editor

Westport, Connecticut

September 2, 2011 


Penny just returned to the United States after spending two weeks surveying Save the Children's food crisis relief programs in Ethiopia. 

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Little Haway from drought-parched Ethiopia had something special to celebrate on her first birthday – being alive. Her village, in what had been the dairy capitol of Ethiopia, has been devastated by drought. For two years, the rains haven’t come. Massive herds of goats and cows have been decimated. Almost nothing grows and fertile pastures are turning into deserts. Village children had nothing to eat but bark from the dying shrubs.

The drought took a significant toll on Haway’s village, her mother fell ill and couldn’t nurse her and there was no longer any milk to drink since the livestock had perished.

Haway became dangerously malnourished and weighed only 12 pounds when she was brought to a Save the Children emergency nutrition program. She was skin and bones, extreme hunger and severe acute malnutrition consumed her tiny body.

Like almost all children in drought-affected regions of Ethiopia, Haway also suffered from infections due to a lack of clean drinking water in her village. Infections hasten dangerous dehydration and muscle-wasting, forcing malnourished children into a rapid downward spiral.

You have to treat babies like Haway very carefully as feeding them the wrong nutrients can be dangerous,” says Sisay Demeke, a Save the Children emergency nutrition coordinator. “First, we treated her illness and restored her body’s balance of water, sodium and essential minerals.”

Haway
Once Haway became stable enough to digest protein and fat, she began receiving a weight-gaining mixture of milk, vitamins, minerals, grain, sugar and oil. And then she began to thrive. She went from listless to vibrant in just a few days. Her sunken face became full, eventually plumping up to the chubby-cheeked baby you see today.

Haway became well enough to go home and begin the out-patient treatment program – consisting of high-nutrient, high-calorie foods and water purification supplies.

The village matriarch, also named Haway, was astounded by the baby girl’s recovery. She has since become a health volunteer for Save the Children and has been trained to keep an eagle eye on health problems in her small tribal village.

I am happy to give back by being a health volunteer. If there were no Save the Children, many of the babies in my village would have died,” she says.

“They [Save the Children] give a very good service. The guys are clever and wash their hands. The food they provide to kids is very good and the way they provide it is kind.”

With her entire village now involved with Save the Children’s health and nutrition programs, Haway and the other young children have the support and hope they need to make it until rains will come back.

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Learn more about our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Help Us Respond to the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa. Please Donate Now.

 

Protecting the Youngest Victims of the Food Crisis

David Klauber David Klauber, Save the Children Intern   

Kobe Regufee Camp, Ethiopia

July 27, 2011


Today while half of the team here on the ground was focused on the operation of our Blanket Supplementary Food Program (BSFP) in the Transit and pre-registration Centers, the rest of us turned our attention towards mobilizing our Child Protection program in the Kobe refugee camp. As we drove the 45 miles to Kobe, I began to anticipate a rather surreal experience at returning to this camp.

When I last visited Kobe in early June, one could not have really called it a camp-it was still just a site, merely a large empty space with a few plots marked off by lines dug in the sand. It’s difficult to believe that within a month’s time of it opening (June 24th) it had reached full capacity.

Today there are 24,934 refugees living in Kobe, 88% (21,952) of which are under the age of 18 years old. We arrived and found the recently barren place transformed into a living, breathing refugee camp, overflowing with children.

Two colleagues and I weaved our way through the endless columns of tents. There were hundreds and hundreds of these small white domes that serve as the refugees’ only defense against the brutal environment of the exposed desert plain. Vicious winds periodically kick up the layer of red dust that coats the landscape. One must be quick to shield their face otherwise breathe a nice hardy mouthful. 

As we observed the countless children of Kobe wandering about in these awful conditions with really nothing to do, it became so apparent to me just how urgent the need for Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) is in this environment.

These spaces are an integral component of our Child Protection intervention in all the refugee camps as they provide children with safe zone/structures where they can take a break from the harsh environment and unstable situation. In this protected environment they can play, make art, express themselves, and perhaps most importantly, return to some degree of normalcy after being uprooted from their home and previous life. The child friendly zones also serve as screening mechanism for Save the Children caretakers to identify children in need of additional support or referral to medical services

By the time we left Kobe, the team had secured several sites, contracted local workers from the host community to begin construction, met with the committee of refugee elders/administrators to select community volunteers to help run the program, and put together a training schedule for both Save the Children staff and volunteers. In just two to three more days our child friendly sites sites will be operational and the kids here in Kobe will have a chance to be kids again.

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Learn more about our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Help Us Respond to the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa. Please Donate Now.


Live Blog: Children at Risk in Libya

55 Geof Giacomini, Save the Children, Egypt Country Director

Cairo, Egypt

Geof reports from Cairo on the impact of unrest on children in Egypt and Libya. Geof plays a key role in providing relief for refugee children and their families fleeing from unrest in neighboring Libya. Save the Children is mounting relief efforts in the wake of a violent uprising against embattled Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi.

When I returned to the Middle East in the midst of the Egyptian revolution, I never would have suspected that Libya would soon follow. Now, the Libyan turmoil and violence is getting worse.Thousands of families have been forced to flee the country for fear of their lives.

The UN reports that thousands of people have sought refuge here in Egypt. Countless others have arrived in Tunisia. Libyan refugees have no where to go but to countries still struggling with unrest themselves.

Resize_imageAn Egyptian boy who fled Libya, walks across the border before being transported to a nearby Tunisian army camp. 
Credit REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

In response to the unrest and emerging refugee crisis, our emergency relief teams have been working tirelessly. Our US logistics expert and aid program director arrived safely at the border. We take very strict security measures and stock the vehicles with provisions and emergency communications equipment such as satellite phones.

Our team continues to support children caught in the violence andendeavours to meet their needs. We want to make sure that children caught up in this crisis are cared for and protected.

Boys and girls in these situations also face serious risks to their health and safety. Children can often get lost in the chaos. If they get separated from their families, they may go hungry or get hurt easily without parents to protect them. They are vulnerable to emotional distress from being uprooted from their homes, schools and all that is familiar to them.

So far, needs center around the basics – food, shelter and health care. We will be partnering with the humanitarian community on these essentials. We will also be working to reunite families and providing support for children who have been exposed to trauma.

More to come from the field as things unfold. We could really use some extra help right about now.

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Get more news about Save the Children and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa

 

Destruction in Joplin

JOPLIN_TORNADO___11_89015 Ali Hochreiter Operations Specialist, Domestic Emergencies Unit, Save the Children USA   

Joplin, Missouri

June 7, 2011


If it had been 6:02 p.m., on a weekday rather than Sunday evening when the Joplin tornado hit, most of the 94 children who attend Creative Kids Academy would have been in the classrooms, waiting on their parents to pick them up. By 6:30 that night, the two buildings and playground that made up Courtney Grover’s child care business were nothing but rubble, one more pile of wood and twisted metal in a seven-mile stretch of destruction that left one lot indistinguishable from the next.

JOPLIN_TORNADO___2_88997Ali Hochreiter (left) of Save the Children speaks with owner Courtney Grover of Creative Kids Daycare Center that was destroyed in Joplin, Missouri. Photo by Bruce Stidham

I’d arrived in Joplin with the goal of assessing needs for families, equipped with names of nine child care centers that served more than 400 children and had reportedly been severely damaged. It was immediately clear that my list of addresses was almost worthless since streets were barely visible, and there were no signs to direct me anyway. I had my nose buried in my blackberry, following a dot on the digital map in the hopes it would pinpoint me in one of the blocks when I realized I was standing in a pile of children’s toys: an oversized ladybug, plastic building blocks, a brightly colored gate. As far as I could see in all directions, it was more of the same — piles of wood, eerily faceless homes open like dollhouses, clothing quietly swinging in the closet, beds hanging off the second story; a kitchen standing in the middle of a ripped-open house, cabinet doors gone but breakfast cereal lined up neatly on the shelves.

JOPLIN_TORNADO___19_89031 2-year-old Braden of Joplin, Missouri sleeps in a Red Cross shelter after the May 22nd tornado destroted his home. Braden and his grandmother survived by staying in their basment during the F-5 tornado. Photo: Bruce E Stidham

Although I’d seen disaster sites before, I was struck by how complete the destruction was within the path of the storm, and how alarmingly clean the edges were, with one house gone and the next one over suffering only minor damage.  I could not imagine how anyone had survived a direct hit and what the aftermath of the tornado must have been like as people dug themselves out and tried to account for neighbors. One family of three staying at the shelter survived by huddling in the bathtub as the house blew away around them, the parents shielding their little girl. They told me she’d been having trouble sleeping ever since.  Standing in the ruins of a child care center that was so fortunately empty when the tornado struck, I had to stop myself from thinking about what might have happened there on another night, and could only hope rebuilding efforts will take into account the mitigation and safety standards that will protect lives in the future.

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Balloon Dogs Aid Children’s Recovery

Amy richmond

Amy Richmond, Child Protection Specialist, Save the Children

Tokyo, Japan

Monday, April 11, 2011


I arrived in Japan more than a week ago to work with our Child Protection Team in the northeast of Japan. The team is working tirelessly to reach children who have lost everything in the tsunami. 

Our main concern is the physical safety of children and their well-being after experiencing such an event – with tens of thousands of children living in evacuation centers after the tsunami with no place to play our top priority is to give them a space to just be children. 

One of our immediate response interventions was setting up Child Friendly Spaces within the evacuation centers – offering children a safe place to play in order to continue to learn and develop after the disaster.

I visited one of our Child Friendly Spaces right outside Ishinomaki this week where the children were making balloon animals.

Two young girls had twisted their balloons into little dogs and shared these with me with such delight as they giggled out the word ‘dog,’ in English.  When I responded with a smile and nod signaling they had the word correct, we laughed as they repeated the word in song while their dogs did a little dance. 

It was a happier moment than the day before, when a young boy in our Child Friendly Space had drawn a picture of his pet, one of our Child Friendly Space volunteers asked him who he was drawing and he replied it was his dog but he didn’t know where he was. It was a reminder of the huge loss children had faced – but now we see children are beginning to reflect and deal with what they have gone through. 

It will be a long recovery. 

We hope to continuously engage children within the Child Friendly Spaces with activities held by trained volunteers that allow children to express themselves freely to help with this process.

Child Friendly Space activities also offer a routine and structure to the daily lives of children living in evacuation centers which helps create some sense of normalcy while their environment is constantly changing. 

This builds on the natural resilience of children at the same time helping them identify positive coping strategies through interacting with other children. 

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

 

His Sister Lost to the Tsunami, Boy Clings to His Mother, Longing for a Place to Call Home

Iwoolverton Ian Woolverton, Save the Children Media Manager

Ishinomaki, Japan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Seina, 9, shelters with his mother, Yuriko, in the sports hall of a junior high school not far from Ishinomaki, where up to 15,000 people died. Sadly, his older sister is among the dead, washed away by the tsunami.   

Seina has been living at this evacuation center for nine days, and really wants to go home. “I sleep here on a mattress inside this hall. My older sister has been lost to the tsunami. Now it’s just me and mom left,” Seina says, wiping tears from his eyes. 

Yuriko_Seina_Ishinomaki_JapanSeina and his mother Yuriko at the evacuation center where they have been living since the tsunami
Photo Credit: Ian Woolverton – Save the Children

I really want to go home. In here, I play cards and read books with other children, but I would really like to play computer games.” But Seina cannot go home, or play his computer games. His home, and everything in it, was destroyed by the tsunami.

The one thing I’m really worried about,” Seina says, “is what’s going to happen to us, and can we get enough money together to have a new house and have a life. The biggest thing that we want, and the biggest thing that we need, is to have a house and to live safe.” 

Apart from wanting a place to call home, Seina would like to have a bath. “We have water, but we cannot have a bath. I really would like a bath.” 

With nowhere else to go, Seina and his mother Yuriko will have to spend weeks in the evacuation center. Despite the dreadful events in his life, Seina is grateful for one thing. “I feel very safe being with my mom. I am really glad that she is here with me.”

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

Child Friendly Spaces – A Primer

Dhheadshot Dave Hartman, Save the Children, Internet Marketing and Communications Specialist

Westport, CT

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


If you've been following our social media updates or watching news coverage of the disasters in Japan you may have heard that we've set up "Child Friendly Spaces."

While the term is somewhat self-explanatory we thought it'd be nice to give you a quick crash course so you can understand precisely what kind of work we are doing in Japan, and in other disaster or conflict-affected areas for that matter.

CFS_003_85313 Yasu, age 10, playing in a Child Friendly Space inside an evacuation center in Sendai, Japan.
Photo by Jensen Walker/Getty Images for Save the Children

 While the spaces have slight variations depending on the country there are a few basic tenets that remain the same.

The spaces are always a clearly designated area in a shelter. In some cases this will be a classroom in a school or specific tent while in others it will simply be a roped-off section of a room. 

The areas are monitored by specially trained Save the Children staff and local volunteers who lead activities for the children. Activities are culturally relevant and something the children are familiar with, in Japan children have been making origami crafts while in other countries children may play tug-of-war or sing songs and dance. 

RO.KGZ.2010.09.206_82243Children form a train at a Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Ordonez

Our staff is trained to identify children who may be particularly vulnerable by the incident. The staff and volunteers try to ensure that children with disabilities, those who come from different ethnic or gender groups are involved in the activities and that everything is age and gender appropriate. Local volunteers are also continually trained throughout the time that we run CFS so that they are better able to help organize more interactive activities and help prepare children to return to school, once they reopen.

RO.KGZ.2010.09.183_80971A boy participates in a sack race at the Save the Children Child Friendly Space in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Ordonez

As Mike Penrose, Save the Children Australia's Director of Emergency Response, explains Child Friendly Spaces have benefits for both parents and children.

"They enable parents to have time to register for emergency assistance and start to re-establish their lives while simultaneously providing children with a sense of normality and community when their lives are disrupted by disasters."

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.