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Rebuilding a life – and returning to school – after Typhoon Yolanda

By Marissa Aroy



Like many survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, 17-year-old Lian Fernandez, a high school senior, now faces an uncertain future. With her school damaged, a setback in her education is among lingering challenges.

TACLOBAN, 2 December 2013 – It's been a long three weeks since Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Tacloban City, and very slowly, the city shows signs of trying to right itself. For school children, getting back into the classroom provides a sense of normalcy and a place to be safe and protected while continuing their education. But a number of schools were devastated by the typhoon, and those that weren't entirely destroyed are now housing evacuees and displaced persons.

For high school senior Lian Fernandez, 17, the setback in her education is one of a number of challenges she's faced. She lives in the middle of Tacloban, in a wooden house with a roof made of aluminium slats. She was with her mother and siblings when the storm hit.

"[I]t's just me and my brother and my sister," she says, remembering the disaster. "My mother's crying because we can't get out of the house. The water is rising up. So she cried, 'Help! Help!' but no one is outside."

"We're panicking because we're gonna die," she continued. "If we go to the second floor of our house, the [rain]water is pouring [in]. The roof is gone. So I thought, 'Okay, I'm gonna die. I'm just going to wait here. That's it.'"

Lian describes surviving the storm with a matter-of-fact tone, shrugging her shoulders to punctuate a sentence. One explanation may be shock. Or it may be a means of coping, or because she is communicating with a stranger. In either case, the trauma for children in affected areas is high.


©UNICEF Philippines/2013
Lian, a high school senior, is due to graduate soon, but her school was among those damaged in the disaster. "I don't know. Maybe yes, maybe not," she says, uncertain of whether her graduation ceremony will now take place.

A second life – an uncertain future

Considered as one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall, Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines on 7 November. Some 14.4 million people have been affected. As of 28 November, 3.62 million people remain displaced.

It's sunny, hot and humid right now in Tacloban. Although recovery is still very much ongoing, signs of life are everywhere: motorcycles, tricycles and some businesses are running. Children are playing badminton in the streets.

With the exception of its roof, Lian's family's house remained intact. Her father, who's in the military and was stationed in Eastern Samar Province during the storm, returned to put up a temporary roof. Forklifts recently came to clear the mountains of debris on their street. All their household items are waterlogged.

Lian and other school children wait for information, not knowing whether their classmates and teachers have survived or when school will resume.

Lian lists her worries: How will she return to school? How will her family get food? A new house?

The roof of her school's auditorium is torn off, the floor is flooded with water, and plastic chairs and desks are strewn all over. An upright piano on the stage seems to be the only thing that remains intact.

Lian has attended the school since kindergarten. Her Grade 6 graduation took place here, and it is where her high school graduation will be – if they can restore the facility.

Will she be able to graduate this year? She looks at the wreckage of the auditorium of her school and shrugs her shoulders. "I don't know. Maybe yes, maybe not."

Despite the challenges she and her family have faced, as a survivor, she still considers herself lucky.

"I'm lucky because this is my second life," she says.

 

 
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