Rain, rain, go away
How UNICEF and their partner organisations are helping children affected by Typhoon Pepeng through psycho social activities.
Benguet province, November 2009 – The Sunflower Centre, a UNICEF partner, in Baguio city in the Cordillera region is a psychotherapeutic centre for children. It was established in 2003 by Father Costa, a Brazilian priest who arrived in the Philippines thirteen years ago. ‘We provide emotional, cognitive and developmental assessments and also treatment for children who has suffered trauma, children with emotional distress and children with developmental or behaviour problems. We normally use play therapy to assess and also to give therapeutic sessions for the children.’ Father Costa says.
A week after typhoon Pepeng hit the region on the 8th October the Sunflower Centre had gathered more then 20 psychologists and counsellors from different universities and organisations in and around Baguio city. ‘We came together and created a contextualized psycho social intervention program specifically geared toward processing traumatic experiences and eventually nurturing the resilient factor of the children.’ Father Costa says. ‘At first we attended the children who were transferred to the evacuation centres. Then we went on to the Elementary schools near the most affected area, especially the ones where many people had died.’ UNICEF sent play and sports material to be used both during the interventions but also for creating child friendly spaces in the evacuation centres.
Initially the psycho social interventions were for children and parents in Baguio, however several other municipalities made a request to the centre and as the roads were cleared from landslides, Father Costa and his team began travelling to faraway places. In late November they were able to reach Mankayan and Ambabag, two small villages north of Baguio city, where numerous houses were destroyed and over thirty people lost their life. Almost two months on, life in the villages had slowly returned to normal, but the memories of Typhoon Pepeng were still on people’s minds.
Building hope and resiliency
‘Rain, rain, go away, come again another day, little children want to play.’ The children that have gathered on the roof top terrace of the municipal hall in Mankayan are singing while animating the rain falling down. Then they drop to the floor and form a circle around Rose, 28, one of the permanent staff members of the Sunflower Centre. She starts telling them a story and the children become absorbed with the drawings she is showing them.
‘It is not easy to ask children directly what they saw and felt during the typhoon or what their plan after is.’ Jet, 34, one of the long-term volunteers says. ‘I therefore decided to come up with a story in order for the children to say what they saw and felt during and after the typhoon. The story is about two ants called Kotontino and Kotontina, as koton means ant in the local language. Kotontino is the oldest and bravest one, while Kotontina is the younger more fearful one. They are on their way to the market when the typhoon hits and the story are meant to get the children to share their experiences.’
The children are divided into two age groups from 6 to 9 and 10 to 12 years old and the story is adapted to each age group, being less animated for the older children. Jet goes on: ‘the story is not completely drafted, but it is a story line with plots so the therapists can inject therapeutic interventions. While the therapist is narrating the story, he or she would ask the children what Kotontino and Kotontina saw and felt during the typhoon, as most of the time children’s stories are really a depiction of what they have experienced. We see the children being very focused on the story and you can tell that they are really imagining what is happening. This is therapeutic for them because they come up with a personal interpretation of the story and they relate it to their own experiences.’
The story ends on what happens after the typhoon and how Kotontino and Kotontina, together with their parents and their community are able to get their life back on track. ‘The child can not just count on themselves and that is what the story is all about and why the story ends with the parents being there to help their children.’ Father Costa says. ‘After the story telling the children are given crayons and paper to express their feelings and there are two drawings, one sad and one happy one. The sad drawing is going back to revisit the distress and the happy one is trying to find the resilient factor for the future.’
Darren,10, from Ambabag village has drawn a house which is covered with mud and has a tree lying on top of it. ‘I was looking for my brother but I couldn’t find him, so I went to my mum and asked her for a glass of water. Then the landslide came and I was covered with mud.’ Darren’s mother and her older sister had to dig her out of the mud and their house was completely destroyed. Sadly her brother died in the landslide. ‘The house on my drawing is covered with mud because it was hit by the landslide and I could not breathe. My other picture has happy flowers on it and the sun is out.’ She smiles and goes back to drawing more flowers.
‘For us who were there during the typhoon it is wonderful to discover the enormous inner strength of each child. That they are able to revisit that stormy and windy night and still laugh and project in their drawings their desire for days full of sun and rainbows.’ Father Costa says. However, for many of the children who were directly affected like Darren, this one time session with the centre is not enough. Therefore the Sunflower Centre is preparing for follow up sessions for children in some of the affected schools. ‘This phase will be more intensive yet playful and definitely hopeful. ’ Father Costa says. ‘The Sunflower Centre is also open to both children and parents who are in need of more help in moving on.’
So far the Sunflower Centre has attended around 3,000 children affected by Typhoon Pepeng and are continuing their work into the next year. The centre has been a UNICEF partner since 2003.
Written by Silje Vik Pedersen, Emergency Communication Officer