November 22 2013

United for Tacloban’s children

Child-friendly spaces are being established for typhoon victims in the Philippines. By helping children to overcome trauma and helping parents rebuild their lives, the whole community benefits.

Dispelling trauma - Playi and laughter is essential for children to overcome tragedy.© T. Standún

Within hours of Typhoon Haiyan, four young people from the southern Philippines prepared for a 24-hour journey by bus, ship and air – destination: the SOS Children’s Village Tacloban. As they manoeuvred through the debris on their approach to the village, they had good reason to be concerned for the children they observed.

“As we passed by the muddy streets, children held out banners that read ‘S.O.S. help!’ or ‘there are eight families here we need food.’ A strong smell lingered everywhere,” recalls social worker Edwin B Ponce. He and his three companions were later to learn that the smell originated from the muddy roadside near the entrance to the SOS Children’s Village. In what has become a daily occurrence in Tacloban, decaying corpses had become exposed in a place where children normally play.
From the moment they arrived, the foursome knew – from their combined expertise in childcare and social work – that children needed immediate help to prevent the onset of long-term psychological issues. “We needed to quickly establish a place for them to feel secure, a place to play and distract them from the horror that surrounds them. We had to think fast and improvise,” said Rosebe Hilot.

Child-friendly spaces help both children and their parents to rebuild their lives. ©T. Standún

“Roofing materials and toys were needed to provide child friendly spaces. But after the flooding, everything at the SOS Children’s Village in Tacloban was destroyed. In desperation we found some old toys in the dirt. We quickly cleaned them and put them to good use,” said the social worker.

The team, who normally work at the SOS Children’s Village in Davao, volunteered to come to Tacloban. They were part of the emergency response team made up of other childcare experts from SOS Children’s Villages across the Philippines and neighbouring countries. Volunteer Maridel Inoc agrees that the team’s solidarity and concern for children is clearly evident within the general community in Tacloban.
“From the moment we arrived to set up the temporary structures, word got around and the local people offered to help us in every way they could. They were so happy that they finally have some way to distract their children’s attention from the horror that surrounds them. You could see their faces light up as they discovered what a child friendly space is. For the little ones it is toys, games and a lot of fun,” she said.
“For parents it provides a window of opportunity to rebuild their lives,” says Shubha Murthi. This is the fourth such major emergency for the International Director, SOS Children’s Villages Asia. Leading the SOS Emergency Response Team, she takes a hands-on approach as she prioritises the needs of children. “Families here in Tacloban need to reconstruct every aspect of their lives. To rebuild their homes and benefit from relief aid being made available by our partner organisation, parents have to have time to be free from their childcare responsibilities. Our child-friendly spaces provide them with assurance that their children are in good hands. But most importantly, a child should not have to share the burden faced by their parents. With the limited resources available, the team here is doing everything possible to ensure that families and the wider community continue to unite for the sake of their children.”