Reunited and ready for school
© UNICEF Philippines/2012/PDay
Roy, 10, was separated from his family during the Mindanao flood emergency last December, but is now reunited with them.
by Philippa Day
Iligan City, Philippines, - When we first met 10 year old Roy* last December, he didn’t know if he would ever see any of his family again. As he was swept out to sea by the surging floodwaters of Tropical Storm Washi, he was separated from everyone he loved. Alone out in the ocean, sick and disorientated, he was pulled to safety by rescuers and brought to Santa Felomina evacuation centre in Iligan City, Mindanao.
Tracing Roy’s family
Roy had no way of contacting his family, or even finding out if they were still alive. Volunteers from Santa Felomina were unable to find any relatives, neighbours or acquaintances who could positively identify Roy. After several weeks at the evacuation centre, Roy was moved to a government-run safe house, while UNICEF Child Protection Consultant Rohannie Baraguir and a team of social workers led by Mrs
Funjefrias Sacan from the City Social Welfare and Development Office, continued the search for Roy’s family.
Reunited at last
In January, the team had an exciting breakthrough, when Roy’s father was found, alive and working as a coconut farmer in the mountains outside Iligan. Soon after, Roy’s mother Teresita – who has been separated from Roy’s father for five years – came to the safe house to claim Roy. After careful assessment of both parents’ situations to ensure the best environment for Roy, he was joyfully reunited with Teresita, his siblings Raymond, 7, Rolilai, 9, Reymart, 11, Amira*, 13, and Dexter, 17, and their loving stepfather. Amira tells the story on behalf of her shy younger brother. “When Roy saw our mum again for the first time after the floods, he had a huge smile but didn’t say much. All his friends were encouraging him to speak!”
Roy, Amira and Abdul relax in the car park next to the carinderia. ©UNICEF Philippines/2012/Day
Playing and working together
Today, Roy’s face glows with happiness as he plays and shares a joke with his sister Amira, and friend Abdul*, 13, outside the small carinderia (eatery) where the family lives. Teresita has been working as the master chef at the carinderia for 17 years. Her boss treats them like his family, giving them food and letting them stay in the small tin-roofed hut at the back of the carinderia for free. However, there isn’t room in the hut for everyone, so Roy usually sleeps on a mat and pillow on the floor of the carinderia.
Roy and Amira also work at the carinderia sometimes, to help their mum pay for essential household items. Amira works as a waitress and dishwasher in her school holidays, while Roy sweeps the floor. He says “I enjoy working here with my Mum”. Roy also washes cars and helps drivers back into the car park next to the carinderia when it’s busy, together with Abdul. They get paid between P10 to P3 per car, depending on the customer’s generosity.
Roy stands in front the carinderia where he works and sleeps, with his mum Teresita’s co-worker Emelia Namoco. ©UNICEF Philippines/2012/Day
Dreaming of an education
Roy says “My dream is to continue my studies. I would like to be an engineer.” Amira and her brothers Raymond and Rolilai are in school, but their parents have no money to send the other siblings to school. Amira is currently in Grade 5, and says “I hope to finish my studies, so that I can become a nurse and go to work overseas. I want to have a good job so that I can help my younger brothers.”
UNICEF’s continued response
UNICEF and its partners are continuing to support the CSWD with the identification and registration of separated or unaccompanied children, family tracing, and reunification where possible. Since Tropical Storm Washi hit on 17 December last year, 75 separated or unaccompanied children have been identified across Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and Bukidnon. Of these, 69 children – including Roy - have now been reunited with their extended families, 4 children referred last April are in family-based care and need further assessment, and 2 children are living in DSWD safe houses while tracing progresses.
UNICEF Child Protection Consultant Rohannie Baraguir is also working with the DSWD to find funding for a special education scholarship, to help children like Roy return to school in June. One year of public elementary school costs US$285 (11,995 pesos), which covers a school uniform, bag, stationery supplies, ‘baon’ (food), transport and an annual school project.
As Rohannie explains, “As soon as a child has been reunited with their family, we immediately look at how to get them back into school, and to support their parents in doing so. This is an essential part of the after care service and case management intervention provided by social workers.” She adds, “School provides a safe learning environment for children, and protects them from potential trafficking or prevents them from begging and abuse on the streets. It’s also vital that children do not miss out on an education, to give them a real future.”
UNICEF in Emergencies
After a disaster like Sendong, UNICEF works to keep children healthy and get them back to school as soon as possible. UNICEF also provides water and sanitation kits for families living in the evacuation centre, including water filters to allow them to collect and safely drink rain water.
In other evacuation centres, UNICEF is providing breastfeeding tents and child friendly spaces for play and learning. We are also working with the government to reunite separated and unaccompanied children with their families, to support children’s emotional recovery, and to report any cases of neglect, abuse or violence against children.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the children