Back to school after Typhoon Bopha in Philippines
By Meena Bhandari
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on efforts to get children back to school in the Philippines following Typhoon Bopha.
Six months after Typhoon Bopha took more than 1,000 lives and displaced more than a million people, teaching and learning are starting up again in elementary schools across affected parts of the Philippines.
NEW BATAAN, Philippines, 15 May 2013 – Glenn Larabez can’t wait to go back to school. The 8-year-old usually attends second grade in his village in New Bataan in the province of Compostela Valley. As he speaks about the typhoon that destroyed his family’s home and stole away his pet bird, Alimokon, his voice becomes quiet, matching his tiny frame.
“My brother had a dream that the typhoon was coming. He lives in Manila, but he came back home the night of the typhoon, and we all ran to a safe place on higher ground.” Glenn says. “The water was as high as the coconut trees.”
Only four houses in his village survived Typhoon Bopha when it struck last December, making it one of the worst-hit municipalities of New Bataan.
“We would all be dead if it wasn’t for my big brother,” Glenn adds.
Glenn and his family returned to their land after the typhoon to find nothing of their house remained: “We came back to where our house stood before the typhoon. But then we couldn’t leave our land again, because the muddy water was too fast and became too high. So we had to stay the night. We ate bananas and raw food to survive.”
The family’s temporary home is the grandstand of the sports complex with around 600 other men, women and children. They sleep in makeshift shelters on the wooden steps meant for sports fans and spectators.
“I miss doing my chores in my house. I miss washing up,” Glenn says. “I miss sleeping in my bed, I miss Alimokon, and I miss playing with my six cousins who are also missing.”
Glenn describes how his mother has been fainting in the grandstand, still frightened by memories of the typhoon. Glenn too has nightmares and is scared when it rains or when the wind picks up.
Back to routine
“Children have been greatly affected,” says UNICEF Education Specialist Aminin Abubakar. “But because they continue to laugh and play on the outside, people don’t always appreciate the serious emotional difficulties they now face.”
“Getting back to school and beginning to talk about what happened to them in a safe, secure environment with teachers who have been trained in psychosocial support is vital so that children do not bury these memories,” he says.
Returning to school quickly after a disaster also reduces their risks and vulnerabilities to exploitation and abuse in other forms, like child labour or trafficking.
Meanwhile, Glenn plays checkers with his friends in a temporary school. “I can’t wait to get new books and start writing again,” he says.