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MINDANAO: “At night when I sleep, I suddenly wake as in my dreams I visit the nightmare of the people I saw being hurt,” says 12-year-old Alyza Grace, who along with her parents and five sisters, is trying to come to terms with what Typhoon Bopha, known locally as Pablo, did to her community in Davao Oriental in Mindanao island, about 950 kilometres southeast of capital Manila.
When Bopha ripped through the Philippines earlier this month, with winds of up to 260kph, it unleashed the kind of destruction not seen in those parts for 100 years. Whole communities were flattened and more than 1,000 people have been confirmed dead so far.
Countless homes were levelled by the storm of the century, and Alyza's house, in coastal Cateel municipality, was among the casualties. Now as families struggle to rebuild their homes and lives, many children are having a hard time processing what they've been through.
“I feel afraid because I'm scared of having an accident or getting wounded. I get worried any time I see a wounded person now. I've seen many wounded people,” adds Alyza, whose father, Alex, a pedicab driver by trade, has noticed a change in behaviour among all of his children.
“Mentally, the children have changed. They were playing like normal before, but now when there's a wind or any rain, they run and hide for shelter. They call out for their parents and get very scared with any loud noises. They can't sleep and wake up suddenly in the night and start crying,” he says.
Carin van der Hor, country director of children's organisation Plan Philippines, says many of the children affected by Bopha exhibit classic signs of serious distress.
“We've seen that some of the children in affected communities have been struggling to cope with what they've endured. They're barely interacting with their families and not speaking a great deal. There's a definite need for psychosocial support for the children and their families,” she adds.
As part of its emergency response across Mindanao, Plan will offer psychosocial support to severely affected children and families to address their emotional, social and mental needs and heal psychological wounds left by the typhoon. Longer-term psychological problems can develop without such an intervention.
“It's important for those whose lives have been so seriously altered to talk about what they've been through and to come to terms with it. The children need to return to some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible. They need to play and to enjoy themselves once again. This is why we're setting up child-friendly spaces across the region where the girls and boys can relax and digest their experiences,” adds van der Hor.
Lack of supplies
Relief supplies have been slow to get to affected communities in Mindanao and villagers in some parts have taken to blocking the roads to plead passers-by for food, clothing and shelter. All along the coast, children beg on the side of the road with hands outstretched. It's a difficult time to be a mother with a young baby, says 21-year-old Adora Quirante, mother of six-month-old Aj, from San Antonio in Cateel municipality.
“We have no food for the children now and we could only find a few clothes. I've been feeding my baby porridge sometimes and breastfeeding alternatively. I have no diapers. Sometimes I have to leave my baby to go and see my husband or go to do some work. I leave him with the others here or his grandmother, who is also staying with us. We need food, shelter, clothing, soap and medicine,” she says.
When Bopha came, Adora was at home with her son while her husband was away working in a nearby village. With nowhere to go, she wrapped her baby in a blanket, ran out into the rice field by her house and lay down on the ground, covering her baby, for nine hours straight as the typhoon unleashed its fury.
“I hope we can rebuild our house. There is some wood left by the typhoon, but we need other things like nails and tools and metal for the roof. We farmed rice and coconuts before. Now all that has been destroyed,” she says.
Adora and Aj are currently staying in the house of their village councillor with about 30 other people. The conditions are far from ideal and already Aj has started getting sick.
“My baby has a cold with a runny nose. We need basic medicine for the baby and also baby powder now,” she says.
Nothing to do
For many of the children living through Bopha, their daily routines of going to school, playing and generally being children have been turned upside down. Families are preoccupied with figuring out how they're going to rebuild their homes and with all the schools wrecked and classes cancelled, most of the girls and boys are left to their own devices.
“Before, we used to watch movies and cartoons and do video karaoke. Now we can't do that any more because we don't have any power or even a TV. We just walk around and find old cigarette packs to make paper aeroplanes. I just want to play,” says eight-year-old John Harold.
Along with his parents and two younger brothers, John Harold had a lucky escape when Bopha visited his small community in Lucod, Baganga, on the east coast of Davao Oriental.
“We'd just got out from our house because of the typhoon when a coconut tree fell over and smashed into it, completely destroying it. We had to evacuate to another house and when we got there we all just hid under a table.”
Thanks to that coconut tree, John Harold's father, Ronald, a carpenter by trade, now has to build his family a new house from scratch. John Harold is also in the awkward predicament of not having a school to go to now.
“My school was destroyed. I'd like to go back to school to play with my friends again,” he says.
This sentiment is echoed among the vast majority of the children who have been affected by Bopha. They want to go back to school, to see their friends and to get back to their old lives.
Aries Khen, 6, and his sister, Airish Kaye Amor, 5, are staying at the Saint James' Parish in Cateel with their parents. Their house is now a pile of wood and corrugated iron.
“I miss my friends at school and being able to play with them. I like to play with them very much. I hope another typhoon doesn't come so we can rebuild our house again,” says Airish Kaye Amor.
The brother and sister duo now spend their days roaming around the village, playing hide and seek and other games among the debris while their father works at rebuilding the parish and their mother looks after their baby brother.
“We just run around here a lot with the other children,” says Aries Khen.
While it seems like a bit of an adventure for the children, there are many risks to their safety. The debris itself is ripe for causing gashes and bruises and the fact that the children are left unattended means they are susceptible to abuse and exploitation. The area is without power and so it's pitch black by about 6 pm.
The longer people are desperate for supplies, the more potential there is for the security situation to deteriorate. Already there have been reports of looting and villagers mobbing trucks carrying relief items as soon as they enter a village. While families are displaced and living anywhere they can, often crammed into one small space with many other people, there is an increased risk of child abuse and trafficking.
“We know that when a disaster like Bopha hits an area, the most vulnerable – the children – are hit the hardest. Many of these children have lost their homes and seen things that no child should have to see,” adds van der Hor from Plan. “Our priority at this stage is to ensure the protection of children and women. They are the most at risk now and it's important that there are safe spaces for them to go.”
Plan is raising an additional US$2.3 million to respond to Typhoon Bopha. Plan’s response efforts will focus on education and child protection in emergencies with an initial duration of 18 months. To find out more about how to donate, click this link.
Notes for editors:
- The Philippines experiences an average of 20 typhoons every year, with two or three of them devastating.
- Last year, Typhoon Washi (local name Typhoon Sendong) hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan – both in Mindanao – a week before Christmas. Typhoon Washi left close to 1,500 people dead, over a thousand missing and an estimated US$23.8M damage to property (at US$1:PhP42).
- Mindanao is still recovering from Typhoon Washi. Plan International provided an emergency response in the province of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.
- Apart from temporary shelters and hygiene kits, Plan also conducted psychosocial processing and disaster response training to residents in both areas.
- Plan International in the Philippines has years of experience in disaster response, specialising in education in emergencies and child protection in emergencies. Our first response can also consist of water, sanitation and hygiene supply, if needed.
- For media inquiries, please call Mardy Halcon, Communications Officer, at +63 917 5435210.