Stories

Children have had their world turned upside down

As the ferry from Cebu pulls into Ormoc, the devastation is unbelievable. Buildings and houses have been flattened, electricity pylons blown down, cars turned over, palm trees ripped apart. As I disembark, people walk towards me holding out their hand and asking for food. I notice the long lines of people desperate to board the ferry back to Cebu as many try to leave.

My first visit is to the coastal community of Naungan. Children are on the streets, fetching water, looking for food or just hanging around doing nothing.

I meet Sunny, a barefoot 13-year-old ChildFund-sponsored boy. He tells me his story: “I was in the school (evacuation centre) with my family when the storm hit. The wind was furious and howling. The noise was deafening. It went on for hours. It was dark outside and the school was shaking. I was very scared. Everyone was screaming and crying and praying. I could hear houses being smashed away and I thought the school would be next. When the storm ended, we went outside and could not believe the destruction. It was the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive.”

This coastal community is badly destroyed. Like in other parts of Ormoc, 90% of houses have been completely blown away. There is no electricity and this is likely to be the case for the next 4 months. All schools are closed and are being used as evacuation centres for the thousands who no longer have homes to return to.

Everywhere I go, people are going hungry and asking for food. There is a huge need for rice, a staple of the Filipino diet. Noodles and canned food are also needed. Food aid is only just reaching Ormoc, albeit slowly.

I head back into town. There are long lines of people waiting for fuel and food, adding to the chaos. People are also trying to withdraw cash. As I walk along the crowded main street littered with debris, a voice calls out: “Hey, ChildFund.” I turn to see a young woman. It turns out she recognised my green t-shirt. Michelle, 18, is sponsored through ChildFund. She tells a similar story to Sunny. Her house has been badly destroyed and her dad is desperately looking for construction materials to fix it. There is a huge need for roof tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in Ormoc as the rain continues to come down, making living conditions miserable. Pneumonia and flu are already major concerns, particularly among children.

Manny, also sponsored through ChildFund, has lost everything. He shows me his house in the area of San Isidro, where 144 children are sponsored through ChildFund. “This is my house. This is how I found it after the storm. Everything is lost, everything!”

ChildFund understands that children are particularly vulnerable in disaster situations. Many are wandering the streets of Ormoc unaccompanied while their parents look for food. They have lost their sense of security and their world has been turned upside down. The need for trauma support is great.

On Friday, ChildFund opened its first Child-Centred Space in Ormoc. These are safe havens for children to come together, take part in children’s activities and for a few hours forget the typhoon and be children again.

114 children of all ages came to play, draw and sing. For the first time since the typhoon hit, smiles appeared on their faces. ChildFund also provides food. These activities help children deal with trauma and help them rebuild their lives.

In the longer term, there will be a huge need for shelter and rebuilding livelihoods. But local officials and communities fear Ormoc will be overlooked and aid will bypass them because of more pressing needs in nearby Tacloban.

In the meantime, it continues to rain and it’s getting dark, hampering relief operations. The people of Ormoc are bracing themselves for another uncomfortable night. For thousands of children like Sunny, Michelle and Manny, it means going to bed hungry, sleeping in damp conditions and reliving the nightmare of one week ago.

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