Hope for the children of Pikit
© UNICEF Philippines/2011/Arcayan
Daycare worker Imelda Balios teaches the children of Tomado Daycare Center, as Michelle Borromeo of UNICEF and Mary Grace Gervacio of J&J look on.
As we focus on the theme of play, it’s important not to forget the children who live in areas affected by conflict. For them regular displacement from their homes can disrupt efforts at early learning through play. And yet for these children, play and socializing is crucial to ensure they don’t suffer long term effects of living in fragile, conflict-affected communities.
November 2011. Brgy. Macabual, Pikit, North Cotabato, Philippines – For someone who grew up in the rather peaceful town of Benguet, and now having a first-hand experience of armed conflict, going back to her hometown would seem like the only viable option. Yet, 52-year-old Imelda Balios chooses to stay.
Having been assigned as the municipal social welfare and development officer since 1989 in the Municipality of Pikit, she hasseen it all: the seemingly endless armed battle between the Muslim rebels and the Philippine government’s military, the violent feud between warring clans (also known as rido), people getting killed, and women and children being evacuated from their homes.
With all this, it would seem that nothing bright is in store for the future. Yet, she sees hope.
Play as crucial to development
“I can feel that this place is calling me and that I am more needed here,” she says of the adoptive town that is now embracing her. “It seems like the conflicts here have no end, but I know that things will only get better.”
As Pikit’s municipal social welfare and development officer, she works on training all the daycare workers in the area. Knowing that the kids at daycare centers are at a crucial stage of human development, Imelda knows how important her work is.
“At their age, it is important for them to learn how to socialize with other kids through play, and to learn songs, because these aid their development,” she explains.
But going on with her mission to shape daycare workers who shape young children is rarely an easy task, considering the armed conflicts breaking out every now and then.
“Whenever there are conflicts, my training of daycare workers as well as the education of kids are suspended for up to two months. Sometimes, if there are bigger conflicts, education is suspended for up to six months,” laments Imelda.
She added that in times of conflicts, people are usually displaced away from their homes, and are settled in evacuation centers.
Children at a day care center in Pikit, Cotabato play, learn and interact with their newfound friends. ©UNICEF Philippines/2011/Arcayan
A greater reason to help
“Every time there’s a big conflict, a massive displacement of residents always happens. The worst one in recent times was in 2008, when up to 6,000 families were displaced,” she recalls.But, as she constantly repeats, she did not lose hope. She had a greater reason to, when help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) came in.
Even if the kids are in evacuation centers, their schooling will not stop because of the Supervised Neighborhood Playgroup being taught to us by UNICEF,” Imelda relates. She says that this kind of program is home-based, where the environment is similar to a daycare center even if they are in an evacuation center or just under a tree. Child-rearing doesn’t cease even in times of conflict.
Supervised neighborhood playgroup is part of UNICEF’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) program. UNICEF, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Philippines brought ECCD to North Cotabato last year.
“This project aims to improve health and education outcomes for very young children in conflict-affected communities of North Cotabato by helping restore or improve the delivery of basic public services for these kids and their mothers,” explains Ma. Fe Nogra-Abog, Early Childhood Development Specialist from UNICEF.
Fe adds that this program gives children a chance to learn, socialize, play, and continue to develop their skills for thinking, speaking, and interacting with people and their environment, even when times are difficult amidst armed conflicts.
“I’m still not losing hope for the children of Pikit. I feel like it has become my mission and vocation to help make their lives better,” says Imelda. “I know that it was tough for their parents growing up with conflicts around them, but I’m still hoping that these children will have a brighter future”.