In Tacloban, creating an oasis where children can be children, and safe
By Diana Valcarcel Silvela
TACLOBAN, Philippines, 21 November 2013 – Hearing a group of children singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" at the new child-friendly space in Tacloban, it seems as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened outside this tent. The children smile and participate energetically.
This child-friendly space sits in the compound of Rizal Central School, an evacuation point and now a shelter for hundreds of families whose homes have been wiped out. Amid the debris and wreckage left by the typhoon, the space is an oasis, a clean, white tent filled with about 40 children laughing, singing, playing and learning under the gentle guidance if two trained day-care workers.
A sense of normalcy
UNICEF plans to set up many more child-friendly spaces in areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda so that children can regain a sense of normalcy, spend time with other children and receive support and counselling. They also provide a place where children can be protected from exploitation, abuse or child trafficking.
"The thing I most like to do is dancing," says Karen, a 10-year-old living with her family in the school compound after they lost their home in the typhoon.
Child-friendly spaces give children a routine that allows them to cope with the trauma they have suffered. They also enable parents to look for food, water and other needs for the family while the children are learning and having fun.
"I am happy that Karen can play with other children," says Dannie, Karen's mother. "I think it's very good for her – she can enhance her talent." The family is currently sharing a classroom with 22 other families until they can build a new house.
"I miss my home and my belongings," Dannie says. "Everything has gone."
A protective space
Inside the tent, the two day-care workers start a new activity with the children. They are asking them to talk about their experience in the typhoon. One of the workers, Marlyn Macarayon, says that it helps lessen the effects of the experience.
Then it's time to dance, and Karen takes it seriously, showing her talent. It's lovely to see these children looking so happy in such a devastated environment. At least in this place, these children can be children again.
Before leaving, I ask them what they need. The first thing they say is "Toys."
Luckily, recreation and early childhood learning kits will be arriving here soon. With games and learning materials, they will make child-friendly spaces even more enjoyable.
But sometimes all it takes is a place to sit and sing, clap hands and joke around in a nice, clean tent that gives protection from the blazing sun and the pouring rain – both of which occur here every day.