Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Tacloban looked really shiny from my airplane window. It was the glint of freshly installed corrugated metal sheet roofing, many homes and businesses whose walls still stood had recently repaired their roofs.

When ChildFund`s emergency response team first landed in Tacloban, the city was the dire place the world was hearing about in the news. After what I had seen then, this progress was welcomed news. And there was more to see as I made my way through town.

Utilities have been restored throughout the city. I`ve heard there are occasional power outages, but supply is largely stable. This is a far cry from the city that was swallowed in darkness each night. Water supply and mobile phone coverage have also been restored.

The public transportation grid is working again. Passenger jeepneys (local, privately owned minibuses) and commuter tricycles are plying the road once more. Some are even back to reckless driving, which is another indicator of normalcy, for better or worse.

Public transportation also indicates fuel supply has also been restored. I spotted many gas stations newly repaired or nearly so. Right after Haiyan, gas stations lay partially or completely in ruins and were subsequently ransacked for their fuel supply.

Tacloban`s streets have been cleared of rubble and rubbish. In the first days after the typhoon, cars were strewn about the roads like toddler`s toys. Now, nearly all the wrecked vehicles are gone from the streets, and the remaining automobile husks are parked neatly in front of their owners` lots.

Commerce in Tacloban is also starting to recover. Many businesses have repaired and reopened. Markets, restaurants, boutiques, electronics and assorted services often sport large painted canvas streamers announcing their re-openings (pictured) – there is certainly no need to live off packed rations or relief goods anymore.

I walked into a little corner fast-food eatery for lunch and enjoyed a good, cheap meal while watching a noon-time show on TV, seated next to a few school-aged girls giggling over Facebook on their phones and tablets. It felt like Haiyan had never happened there. The volume of lechon (roast pig) stalls open throughout the city also surprised me. Lechon isn`t cheap, and it`s usually served only at fiestas or large banquets.

School is out for the Philippines` summer break, from late March to the first week of June. Teachers say ChildFund`s Child-Centred Space training was critical in the months of January to March, when school had to resume but children were not physically and emotionally prepared. These same teachers feel more confident that they`re in better shape to start school in June.

Still, in contrast to local businesses, school buildings have largely not been repaired, and teachers expect to run up to three shifts of students using each surviving classroom. Quonset hut-like structures built by responding agencies will help ease congestion in classrooms.

Though signs of progress and recovery were apparent everywhere, so are Haiyan`s horrible scars. Most large structures-turned-evacuation centres, like the astrodome by the bay, are now empty or under repair, numerous tent cities can still be found in the city.

Homes and businesses that suffered huge damage remain neglected. Many residents or shop owners just aren`t prepared to rebuild, or they`ve abandoned Tacloban for Cebu, Manila or elsewhere.

The large ships that Haiyan`s storm surge carried and deposited on dry land, right on top of a seaside community, remain in place,  solemn steel monoliths to remind the city of Haiyan`s toll. The ships` hulls are now covered in graffiti, some are messages of encouragement, but there are many expressions of grief and rage.

Tacloban is rebuilding, but it`s rebuilding over not only terrible physical and emotional scars but also pre-existing conditions. Businesses may be restarting, but lower-income households, whose earnings derive from agriculture such as copra production, have it harder.

The threat of malnutrition, already observed in Leyte before Haiyan, has been compounded by the scarcity endured until only recently.

Having personally seen Tacloban on its knees, I`m thankful to see it struggle to its feet now. I`m thankful to be a part of this effort. I`m thankful to colleagues at ChildFund who`ve laboured, wept and struggled alongside Taclobanons for six months now. Of course, I`m also thankful to donors who`ve helped us do what we do.

ChildFund will continue to play a significant role in Tacloban`s recovery.

ChildFund`s recovery work is helping to tackle livelihood restoration, nutrition and child protection challenges faced by post-Haiyan Tacloban and other affected areas in the central Philippines. This work would not be possible without our amazing Aussie supporters who together have donated more than $600,000 to date – thank you!

See more of Martin`s pictures documenting Tacloban six months after Super Typhoon Haiyan. 

“In my childhood, if a child was not feeling well, we used to take them to the traditional healer, who would beat the sick child with a broom in order to drive out the sickness and evils inside.

“My parents didn`t pay much attention to us. Even when I was six years old, my son`s age now, I was responsible for my younger siblings,” says 25-year-old Manali, remembering life in the remote Indian village where she grew up.

When Manali married seven years ago, she moved to one of the 43 rural villages ChildFund works with in Raigad district in western India.

Her and her husband had two children, Kunal is now six years old and Komal is three years old, who Manali was determined to give a better start to life than she received.

“From that day onwards, I`ve been involved in ChildFund`s programs,” she says, the most important being ChildFund`s early childhood development (ECD) program, which helps to educate and support parents to meet the needs of their youngest children.

“Eighty per cent of brain development takes place in the first three years of a child`s life,” says Virendra Kulnari, program manager of ChildFund`s local partner in Manali`s community. “But many parents are not able to give their children the support they need because they have to go to the fields to work.

“The early childhood development program is a key program of our organisation,” says Kulkarni, “because we want the children to not only be healthy and well-nourished but also to reach their highest potential, now and in the future.”

Now, Manali understands how best to support her children and their development. “I`ve learned that sanitation and hygiene are so important for my family,” she says. “Whenever Kunal comes home from playing outside, I make sure he cleans his hands and feet before coming into the house.”

Children in the village are monitored monthly, both through home visits and at the ECD centre, which is attended by all the community`s preschool-age children, to ensure their height and weight are on target and they are well nourished. Mothers also learn in classes how to prepare protein-rich, nourishing foods from locally available ingredients.

“One thing I really enjoy is coming together with other mothers, learning new recipes and ways to cook healthy and nutritious foods, then bringing this knowledge back home and cooking healthy meals for my family,” says Manali.

Manali`s son, Kunal, attended the local ECD centre until he was ready for school and his younger sister, Komal, still attends the centre, which supports the children`s cognitive, communicative, motor skill and social development.

“ECD preschools focus more on helping children understand basic concepts than on alphabet and math; instead of learning numbers, for example, they learn through play, song, story and art,” says Kulkarni. “Once the conceptual clarity is done, definitely they are going to learn in a better way when they start attending school.”

And they do. In the days before ECD programming arrived in the area, Kulkarni says, children used to drop out of school after first or second grade. Now both the ECD centres and schools report 100 per cent enrolment.

Manali can`t help but see the contrast between her community now and her childhood village. “In my old village, the children are malnourished, you can tell,” she says. “The children aren`t growing up healthy. But my children here are staying on track and living well.”

Manali relishes her role as a mother but most of all, she enjoys her children themselves. “I love it when the children start to learn to speak and communicate with you,” she says, “when they make songs in their own way. It`s so special.”