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Philippines children smiling again after Typhoon Haiyan

As you approach Tambulilid School, the singing and laughter of children gets louder and louder. It’s great to hear children having fun and being children again.

One month after Typhoon Haiyan struck islands in the Philippines, ravaged communities are slowly getting back on their feet. In the devastated city of Ormoc, ChildFund is addressing the immediate needs of impacted families by distributing food packs and essential items including hygiene kits, roofing materials and cooking utensils.

ChildFund is also focusing on providing psychosocial support to children. In disaster situations, children are particularly vulnerable. While parents are out looking for shelter, food, water and emergency assistance, children are often left unsupervised, increasing their susceptibility to abuse, exploitation and harassment. Children are often separated from loved ones and exposed to levels of destruction that have long-term effects on their psychological and physical development.

So far ChildFund has distributed 16,000 food packs and 7,000 packs containing essential items to families affected by Typhoon Haiyan

ChildFund was quick to establish Child-Centred Spaces (CCS) immediately following Typhoon Haiyan to provide a safe haven for children to play, socialise, learn and express themselves in a caring and supportive environment. At Tambulilid School, where ChildFund established its first CCS after the typhoon, a young mother, Rein, says: “I leave my daughter here while I stand in the long distribution line for food. She is only 5 years old. It is important she has a safe place to play under supervision.”

At a CCS, children take part in activities that help them overcome the traumatic experience they went through. It is also a place where children can be children again.

“For a few hours every day, I can forget what happened and play with friends,” says a smiling Angel, age 7. Marcela, a local ChildFund staff member, explains: “Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression.”

Today, children are drawing. They are enjoying themselves. Marcela adds: “At first, most children drew pictures of the typhoon and the destruction, but in more recent days, they are drawing their family and friends. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centred spaces help in this respect.”

More than 300 children participate daily at Tambulilid, one of three CCSs run by ChildFund in Ormoc. “We conduct separate sessions for different age groups, where we provide age-appropriate structured activities,” Marcela says. “Many youths are trained facilitators and have volunteered to conduct sessions for younger children, because they want to be active in the community`s recovery. We have also mobilised many volunteers. ChildFund has worked in Ormoc through a local partner organisation for many years and we have a strong relationship with the local community. We train our volunteers to provide basic support to children dealing with distress and shock from their situations and to recognise children who need to be referred for more specialised services.”

ChildFund has set up 13 Child-Centred Spaces in impacted areas where children are receiving support to overcome trauma

Although food aid has arrived in Ormoc, malnutrition is still an issue as a number of children appear to be underweight. ChildFund provides food to children at the CCS. Marcela says: “The first day we opened the CCS, we served pancit (a type of Filipino noodles). It was the first time children ate a cooked meal since the typhoon struck. They were extremely hungry. They ate everything up quickly and they had a smile back on their faces. The second day we served pandesal (a popular bread roll in the Philippines made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar and salt).” Today, it is spaghetti with tomato sauce. It makes a nice change from the rice and canned sardines they eat every day in the evacuation centres.

While the situation in Ormoc is improving, basic survival resources such as food, drinking water, shelter and access to medical treatment are still needed. Schools were expected to reopen sometime this month, but with school buildings extensively damaged, this is unlikely. Schools are in need of major repair to be safely occupied and learning and teaching materials need to be replaced if classes are to resume as intended. There is still no date for the restart of pre-school and day care activities at this time, highlighting the critical importance of ChildFund’s Child-Centred Spaces.

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