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After the flood: life in an evacuation centre

Arries Tejo with his mother Aida
© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Andy Brown
Arries Tejo, 15, with his mother Aida. They have been living in an evacuation centre for five weeks, since their home was destroyed by a collapsing factory wall.

How UNICEF Philippines is helping children living in evacuation centres after Tropical Storm Ondoy

On Saturday 26 September, Tropical Storm Ondoy slammed into Manila, one of the most densely populated urban centres in the world, deluging it with 18 inches of rain in 12 hours and flooding 80 per cent of the city. Over 600 people were killed and nearly 400,000 were forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in evacuation centres.

For the last five weeks, Arries Tejo, 15, has been living with his mother, three brothers and two sisters in Barangay Bagumbayan evacuation centre. “After the storm came, we were trapped in our house by the flood water,” he says. “We had to wait until the next day for the water to go down enough for us to leave. Then we carried out our belongings and walked to the evacuation centre.”

In many ways, Arries had a lucky escape. “Our house was next to the concrete wall of a factory,” he explains. “After we left, the wall collapsed and destroyed all the houses on our road. Now we have to wait here for a new house.”

The evacuation centre, which is in a former basketball court in Libis, Quezon City, is currently home to around 40 families, down from 100 in the immediate aftermath of the floods. It is still crowded, hot and humid. The families live literally on top of their belongings with their clothes hanging to dry from the basketball hoops above them. They are either waiting for new homes, like Arries, or for the Government to provide transport back to their home towns in the provinces.

“We were caught by surprise by the extent of the flood, as the water has only been a foot high in the past,” says Gerry Cuno, from Mindanao, who is living in the centre with his wife and four sons, aged from two to seven-years old. His eldest, Evander, has special needs. “We had to spend the night on the roof while we waited to be rescued,” Gary continues. “The children were very frightened. The younger ones cannot yet express themselves but Evander said he wanted to leave the house because the water was too deep.”

Reaching out

A young girl proudly displays her colouring
© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Andy Brown
A young girl proudly displays her colouring during the psycho-social support session run by local charity Lingap Pankabataan.

UNICEF is working with local charities to provide child-friendly spaces, education and psychosocial support to children like Arries and Evander in the evacuation centres. In Barangay Bagumbayan, we have partnered with Lingap Pangkabataan (Caring for Children), a faith-based organization that was already working in the area with street children, indigenous communities and the victims of child trafficking.

“We provided immediate relief services for over a thousand families affected by the storm and flooding,” Cathyrine Eder, Program Development Coordinator at Lingap, says. “We also developed a psycho-social support programme for children in evacuation centres and in the communities. UNICEF provided additional supplies and materials, because we only had a few reading books, and involved us in planning, assessment and psychosocial training.”

Staff at Lingap saw firsthand the impact of the disaster on children in the area. “After the flood the children were traumatised,” Project Officer Rexan Dayao comments. “Some of them are orphans; others have been left behind by their families. Many of the children have no access to healthcare and cannot go back to school because they have lost their school supplies and uniforms. There are children that sleep on the streets, even during the afternoon, because there are no activities for them. We are advocating for their rehabilitation.”

Through the new programme, called Arko after Noah’s Ark, outreach workers from Lingap run two-hour sessions every day for local children. Activities include storytelling, arts and craft, music and supervised play.

At the evacuation centre, several sessions are run simultaneously. One group of girls get crayons and colouring books, while boys listen to a story, then learn and sing songs. Older children take part in a more advanced music group with xylophones. A fourth group makes birds out of coloured clay. “These activities allow children to rediscover their world in a protected and supervised environment,” Cathyrine says.

There is still a lot of work to be done, particularly with children and families who were unable to get to the evacuation centres. “In those areas we haven’t yet reached, there are children who are afraid their community will be flooded again when it rains hard,” Cathyrine comments. “Every time it rains they start putting their things on plastic bags. There are also children who wake up in the middle of the night because they’re having nightmares.”

The typhoon season is now, thankfully, coming to an end but for families and children throughout the Philippines, the ordeal will continue for months to come as homes are rebuilt, people are resettled and children slowly come to terms with their distressing experiences. UNICEF is currently appealing for $22 million to fund the recovery and rehabilitation of families and children. We currently have $7 million committed but we need more in order to continue this vital work.

The author
Andy Brown is Senior Web Editor at UNICEF UK

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