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Let them play





By Rosan Aliya Agbon
Founder, Kids for Peace Foundation, Inc.

Kids for Peace is a youth-run, youth member NGO, started  with children who wanted to advocate for peace in conflict affected areas of Mindanao. Since they have grown, they developed a capacity in psycho-social support to other children and young people affected by conflict and natural disasters.

Recently they applied for the San Marino-Alexander Bodini foundation children's awards which honors child-led organizations that have successfully and meaningfully contributed to creating a world fit for children. They were successful in being one of the awardees for 2012. They are now using part of the funds to run a psycho-social camp for the children affected by Tropical Storm Sendong in Cagayan de Oro City, Mindanao.


You know that you did a great job when children hold on to your arms and shirt for dear life and ask you to stay. When you're successful in loosening yourself from their grip and manage to ride the vehicle because you need to leave, you're now worried as you see them running after the car.

This is the how it is every time we drive away after our psychosocial  sessions in Balulang Elementary School in Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. We started there as strangers but now, it has become our second home and the chidren have become much like our sisters and brothers.

 We, at the Kids for Peace Foundation Inc. (KIDS), were worried at first because we were aware of the seriousness of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Washi (local name: Sendong). Thousands of lives lost or missing within 24 hours of the impact was not an easy information to digest. During our assessment on December 26, 2011, we became one of many firsthand witnesses to aftermath of the disaster. It was beyond belief.  Houses destroyed to ground zero, evacuation centers packed with the survivors, water supply ran out and suicides started to become an option.

We saw children and they stared back at us. We saw some lining up for food, some playing. We asked some of them at the  Kauswagan Elementary School and Tibasak to draw about anything they wanted to. We waited for them to finish their game and then they grapped the crayons and sheets of paper.  It was important for us to know how they were feeling at that time as our way of thinking through how can help them with psychosocial support. 


This is what we see whenever we leave the school after our psychosocial sessions. Only this time,
we left with a heavy heart because this was our last day in Balulang Elementary School. These
children will forever have a special place in our hearts. Photo by Herbert Willkomm III
.


Many drew the sun, clouds, houses, trees, flowers, dead bodies, people hanging on to trees,  the river that widened and the illegally logs that were washed away from the mountains. The sun they said was their way of saying “please stop the rains”. A boy drew the face of Jesus, thinking that perhaps his brother is in heaven already. Several of them obliged us with stories of their harrowing experiences that night of December 16, where many just arrived home from Christmas parties at the work place.   High-pitched and rambling voices shared about how they managed to hang on the arms of their parents or trunks of trees, or clambered to rooftops amidst the darkness of the night and the scary sound of rushing waters.  After hearing the stories of the children, we could only weep in silence, viewing the debris. We can only imagine how it was. The children lived through it.

We knew what we were in for. We were not from the place and some of us were not conversant in their language. It also meant we had to temporarily uproot ourselves.  But there was no doubt about it, we will help. It was the right thing to do. Our hearts will speak for us and we knew the children will understand this language.

Fast forward January, we were in the midst of the children-survivors who had gone back to school. We did games, storytelling, theater, claywork, breathing exercises, drawings and other creative forms. Behind these light and fun sessions were serious discussions among us on how we will design our psychosocial support for these children. They’ve had more than their enough share of fear and pain so this work was serious work for us. We always kept in mind that children are children, and they are in their element when you let them play.


The kids show their love for Habib Mohamad, a ChildHeal facilitator. Photo by Rosan Aliya Agbon

The ChildHeal facilitators of our Foundation were surprised because the children immediately warmed up to them. The children looked up to them and by the time the first week was over, the children were already screaming their names  whenever their ates and kuyas*   passed by the classrooms.  It was not difficult to know if what we were doing worked because the children candidly told us what they thought of and how they felt during the sessions.
 
 We were blessed in winning the 2011 San Marino-Alexander Bodini Foundation Children's Awards and we have Angela Travis of UNICEF to thank for, for  believing in us and encouraging us to submit a proposal. This blessing will  be used to help the children express themselves more through film, photography, big book writing, theater and soil painting. We hope that with these creative forms, they can also help other children understand how it is be caught in the middle of such danger and how they, children as they are, can keep themselves safe in such situations. We called the camp Sinag, a Filipino word for the sun’s ray, as we dream of sunshine of hopes for the children of Cagayan de Oro. The rains will always come, and so will the shining rays of the sun.

 In every project, my belief in the powers of children increases. What happened in Balulang Elementary School is another treasure that I will definitely keep forever. I always tell people to never underestimate the innate power of children - they just might surprise you. They find beauty and fun in the darkest of situations. Let them be. Let them play. They have been our sinag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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