Child-friendly centre provides relief to typhoon-affected children in Tacloban City
By Kate Donovan
TACLOBAN, Philippines, 6 December 2013 – Frances Ramandiman, 10, claimed the little guitar from the UNICEF box for a few minutes, enough time to pick out a few chords and practice strumming. He is a beginner in so many things, yet Frances is a veteran and a survivor of one of the worst storms the world has ever seen.
And the guitar is his just for a moment before another child takes a turn.
There is also a drum in the box, played with great gusto in a place where children rarely play outdoors
Frances, 10, is a shy boy, or maybe he was made shy by Typhoon Yolanda's fierceness. His family fled their home in Barangay 88, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, just before the wind began. As he and his father, mother and four siblings waited out the huge waves of three storm surges in a sports stadium called the Astrodome, the typhoon battered their home, his father's livelihood and all of their belongings – including birth certificates, property deeds and family memorabilia – into a pulp.
UNICEF set up a tent for use as a child-friendly space on the grounds of the Astrodome, a place where they can play, learn and relax in an area reserved exclusively for them. Frances was one of nearly 100 children inside the tent, swarming with energy.
According to the latest figures, more than 4 million people have been displaced from their homes by the tyhoon's destruction. Converted to an evacuation centre, there are 1,661 people crammed together in the Astrodome, and that means raw day-to-day living. Most sleep under tarps held up by flimsy structures. Unrelated adults and children are sleeping head to toe, some of them friends from the old neighbourhood, some of them friends of friends, and some of them strangers. Children living in these kinds of conditions are exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Frances and his family are lucky that they have managed to occupy a concrete corner, about 10 feet by 10 feet, under the eaves of the stadium.
With all their legal documents destroyed or disappeared, with the city's computers washed away and the City Hall washed out, Frances and millions of other children have effectively lost their legal identities. Birth certificates anchor children to their nation – without a birth certificate, a child is more easily exploited, more easily trafficked; he or she can be denied an education, a diploma, and eventually the right to vote, to wed or hold a job.
In all the struggles Frances faces every day, all the risks – visible and invisible – that he is forced to confront, this is one more thing the little boy will have to pick his way through.