Living with Mayon
How UNICEF and partners ensure that children are prepared for the natural disasters in years to come.
Albay Province, Bicol, January 2010 – I was with my family when we were told to evacuate.’ Julius, 12, recalls, ‘We packed things from the kitchen and I packed my school uniform and my notebooks. I felt scared when I packed my things and I was praying that Mayon would not erupt.’
On 14 December last year, a series of ash explosions and lava flows, as well as an increase in seismic activities made Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOLCS) raise the alert level of the Mayon Volcano from 2 to 3. This lead to mandatory evacuation of the population living in all areas within 6km radius permanent danger zone around the volcano, as well as the population within the 6-8 km extended danger zone. When the alert level was raised to 4 on the 20 December, the total of evacuees were 10,032 families or 47,563 persons, located in 29 evacuation centres.
Julius, his family and the rest of Banadero village were evacuated to Anislag relocation site in the urban part of Daraga municipality. As their village is located at the foothill of the mountain and within the danger zone, being evacuated has become something of normality for the community. The area in Anislag was designated as a permanent relocation site by the government in 2006, after Typhoon Reming cause mudslides of volcanic ash and boulders from the slopes of Mayon and over a thousand people were killed. The government have provided building materials for the families and so far there are 388 house units in the settlement.
Banadero Elementary School was also transferred to the relocation site and Julius and his fellow students could continue their classes. ‘We were able to move the classes to the relocation site immediately when the evacuation was ordered and we have been able to conduct classes ever since, only interrupted by the Christmas break.’ Principal Briones says. ‘The children have attended their classes in tents provided by UNICEF, but with children from three different grades in one tent this is not the best long term learning environment’
A new school is under construction, however more funds are needed to finish it. UNICEF is therefore providing the school with more tents to decongest the classes while they wait for the new school. Julius on the other hand just wants to go home. ‘I am a little bit happy here because I can continue to go to school and the classes are safe, but I would like to go back to my village because that is where I am from.’ He smiles proudly and runs off to play with the other children.
UNICEF provided 27 tents and 30 units of tarpaulins to the Government of Albay, in response to their request early on in the evacuation.
Julius and his classmates at the relocation site in Anislag
Disaster preparedness and Community spirit
At another school in Malilipot municipality, on the other side of the volcano, classes have also resumed after the Christmas break. San Jose Elementary school was used as an evacuation centre for 506 families. ‘The evacuees came here just three days before the Christmas break,’ Principal Ms Adelia B. Vibar says. ‘Lucky they were able to return home before classes resumed after the break. This was different from 2006 when we had evacuees living at our school for two months.’
The teachers and students from San Jose are used to have evacuees living at the school. One of the blocks of classrooms is therefore specially designated as an evacuation centre in emergencies and it was built with the help of UNICEF. The school has also been trained in disaster preparedness by TABI, a local community based NGO, in 2008. The disaster preparedness workshop was a pilot project supported by UNICEF, and four elementary schools and two high schools in at-risk areas participated. The students, teachers and parents were introduced to the basic concepts of disaster risk reduction and through interactive play and art the school children articulated their school safety concepts and learnt the do’s and don’ts for the disasters they are exposed to.
TABI has been working with local communities since it was founded in 1984, however the disaster preparedness workshop in the schools was new to them. ‘TABI work within the communities. We listen to their problems and then we try to develop a project together with them, based on what their needs and capacities are.’ Maricris Binas, Executive Director of TABI, says. ‘We wanted to transfer this to the school workshop and we wanted it to be sustainable. We therefore designed the activities in a way that at the end of the three months workshop we would have something new and something tangible for the schools and even for our experience as a pilot project.’
Jan Antonette, 12, was one of the participants and even if it has been over a year, she still recalls: ‘We learnt how to be prepared for any calamities and we learnt how to prepare things during and after the calamities.’ She explains. ‘We also learnt that during the calamity we should not panic, so I remembered this now when Mayon was happening and I stayed calm.’
Principal Adelia praises the students for their preparedness. ‘With the help of the children and in cooperation with UNICEF and TABI that conducted the workshop, we were prepared and therefore able to manage through the evacuation,’ she says, ‘TABI also came to our school and with the help of our students they conducted psycho social activities such as story telling for the evacuated children.’
Diana, Jan Antonette and Baby Ruth outside the UNICEF building, at San Jose Elementary school.
The students of San Jose Elementary school were not just helping with psycho social activities. After the evacuees had returned back to their community, TABI organised food deliveries and both students and teachers from the school volunteered to help. ‘We were helping with relief goods distribution in two barangays,’ Diana, 10, explains. ‘We were helping with arranging the relief packs and with handing them out.’
The students and the teachers indentified with the community and Diana and her fellow students are therefore ready to help again if it would be needed. ‘We do not know when the volcano will erupt, so I am happy I could help with the relief goods distribution,’ she says. ‘My family and I can also be affected if there is an eruption, so I feel sorry for the people who had to evacuate. Our sacrifice here in the school is small compared to the people who had to leave their homes during the evacuation and who might have to move to another place permanently.’
The alert level for the Mayon volcano went down to 2 on the 13 January and most families have been able to return to their communities. However, there are plans in place to permanently relocate the families who live within the 6km permanent danger zone. UNICEF contributed with water kits, medical supplies, tents, information support materials and psycho social activities during the evacuation.
Article and photos by Silje Vik Pedersen, Emergency Communication Officer