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

Anonymous_blog

 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.

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

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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

 

Growing Desperation across Tacloban City for affected Children and their Families

Edwin photo

 

Edwin Horca, Save the Children

Tacloban, Philippines

November 14, 2013

 


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.

 

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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. 

 

Donate to the Typhoon Haiyan’s Children Relief Fund