UNICEF Executive Director meets victims of tropical storm Ketsana in Manila
By Pamela Pagunsan
Ms. Veneman visited Santa Cruz village in low-lying Pasig City. This village, with a land area of about nine hectares, experienced flood waters rising up to 3 ½ feet, forcing residents to evacuate to the nearby Liberato Damian elementary school for safety.
The school turned evacuation site housed 143 families or 700 people, 300 of them children, during the first few days after the storm hit. Ms Veneman met with children and chatted with mothers who had lost their homes in the storm.
Forty-year-old Mrs. Rossana Balboa currently lives inside a classroom on the third floor of the school shared with five other families. “It’s been very difficult. My husband is sick and because of the flood, he doesn’t have work so we don’t have money for medicines,” she said crying as she recounted her story. It takes about 30 minutes to get from the evacuation site to her house which was only now accessible via small boat or by wading in knee-high waters. Her older kids are left to guard the house and their belongings while the little ones, with the youngest just 10 months old, stays in the school with her.
Ms Veneman also met 6th grader Jaime De Venecia, Jr., one of the evacuees living on the fourth floor with eight other families. “I want to go back to school when the waters subside. I want to finish my studies and get a job even as a janitor just so I can help my father.” Despite the situation, Jaime finds a way to smile by playing and hanging out with his friends. He dreams that he and his siblings will be able to finish their studies so that they will have a better future. “I’m still thankful because even though we’re poor and we’ve lost everything, we are still complete and that’s enough.”
“My heart goes out to the families I met today who now have no home but the corner of a school classroom” said Veneman. “It was encouraging to see some children back in school which brings a sense of normalcy to their lives after going through such a disaster.”
To date, UNICEF has provided the Pasig city government with family kits containing basic necessities such as water cans, blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, to benefit families for at least three months. UNICEF has also turned over essential medical kits for health workers in the communities and water hygiene kits to ensure families can have safe water for drinking and cooking. UNICEF also provided educational materials including a 100 book library to replace the materials that were lost in the flood. The play materials and books will also help to provide psychosocial rehabilitation for the children.
At Villamor Airbase, Ms Veneman met President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and had a constructive discussion about the flood response, areas of need that UNICEF can meet, and efforts to fufill and promote the rights of all children in the Philippines.
Ms Veneman also launched the UN Flash appeal in which UNICEF is appealing for US$12.7 million to assist flood victims in the areas of clean, safe drinking water, school supplies, essential medicines for children to prevent the outbreak of disease and registering and protecting children who have become separated or have lost parents.
With this range of activities, UNICEF is aiming to reach 1 million people to help them recover and return to normal activities. UNICEF is co-ordinating all operations with the national and local governments, to ensure supplies reach those most in need.