When Plan’s communications officer asked me to join her team bound for Davao Oriental in Mindanao, I was hesitant to go. I doubted whether I’d be of any help to the team, let alone to the children of Davao Oriental [who are recovering after Typhoon Bopha/Pablo]. Having verbally committed to my colleague’s invitation, I went anyway, hoping that I’d be able to contribute to the travelling party’s scope of work, and that my trip would be personally meaningful.
Being task-oriented, I focused on what I could impart to the children. Little did I know that it was I who would gain so much from this trip.
No one who visits Cateel and Boston leaves unmoved. The uprooted coconut trees as far as the eye could see – coconut trees aren’t usually toppled by typhoons – and the ubiquitous tents that serve as temporary shelter seven weeks after Pablo hit seemed too much to bear. I wondered how the people would recover – and how my visit could contribute to their recovery, if at all.
My assignment on this trip was to assist training children to use video for documenting the progress of their recovery. Nethope donated the video cameras.
Working with the children in Cateel and Boston, I realised my visit was worth it. When it comes to relationships, I get my “highs” when I deal with people on a very personal level, usually in small groups. Helping the kids video-document their stories gave me such a high. While teaching the kids to use the video-camera, I found myself wanting to listen to them as they interview each other on how life has changed after Pablo. I felt privileged that the kids trusted us to help them tell their stories.
One girl, 15 years old, shared that life has changed after Pablo because she and her siblings lost an ate (older sister). “Pablo took our ate.” As I remembered her story, I hoped that she would be comforted.
To children who asked how they should share their stories, I advised them to be sincere, to speak “from the heart” and make the interview conversational, not stiff. I was glad I was able to share with them my experience as an interviewer.
Amidst the utter devastation, the children were smiling, even as they tell their stories of how they get by living in tents, waiting for resources to rebuild their homes. I felt proud that Plan has contributed to alleviate the situation of the people of Davao Oriental. To date, Plan has given 2,400 hygiene kits, 2,400 water kits, and 2,400 shelter kits (linoleum, plastic sheets and ropes) to people in Cateel, Baganga, and New Bataan in Davao Oriental.
A young man from Boston, 17 years old, said to me, “Thank you, ate [a term used to address an older woman] for coming here.” He was one of the participants in our video-documentation training and he was actually thanking Plan as I explained to him that Plan staff in the area came from various parts of the organisation, and that we just came for the disaster response.
He and his classmates first heard about Plan when a member of our emergency response team, Emil Paz, arrived in their town shortly after Pablo hit. At that moment, I really admired the dedication of Plan’s emergency response teams. I hope that they are continually inspired as well, and that they get to replenish their energy as they help the survivors recover.
And I hope that I have helped to tell the stories of the kids in Cateel and Boston, Davao Oriental. As one girl in Cateel said, “I want the world to know what we are going through so they can help us.”
Cecile Cornejo is a research specialist in the Philippines for Plan International, a humanitarian organisation responding to the survivors of Typhoon Bopha/Pablo. She spent a weekend with children in Cateel and Boston, Davao Oriental. Cateel and Boston are among the towns that sustained the most damage from the typhoon, which hit Mindanao island on December 4. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and do not represent Plan’s.