Safe spaces for new mothers and their babies, as recovery from Typhoon Yolanda continues in the Philippines
by Diana Valcarcel
UNICEF and partners are providing spaces in which mothers and babies affected by the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda can retreat to relax and begin the long path to recovery.
TACLOBAN, Philippines, 16 December 2013 – Cristina Yuzol cradles baby Kathlyn in her arms. Kathlyn was born on 19 November, shortly after Typhoon Yolanda hit.
"This place helps me to relax," says Ms. Yuzol. Mother and baby sit in a tent in barangay (neighbourhood) 68. "Our house was destroyed by the typhoon. We have started to rebuild it, so we are living in a partially restructured house."
"It's very stressful to be there," she continues. "When I come here, Kathlyn and I are relaxed, and I can forget my problems."
A place for mothers, a place for babies
Before, during and since Typhoon Yolanda, mothers like Ms. Yuzol have gone through the joy and challenges of childbirth.
Since the typhoon struck, many of these mothers have been sheltering in evacuation centres. Some have been widowed by the storm. They birth their babies amid loss, some newly impoverished. Some are first-time mothers, some not.
In partnership with Action Against Hunger (ACH), UNICEF has set up parent/baby-friendly tents like the one in which Ms. Yuzol and Kathlyn rest. There are four tents in Tacloban and one in Dulga municipality.
These spaces give mothers and babies a clean, safe and calm place to recuperate from the shock of the storm, for mothers to breastfeed and for babies to relax and play away from the crowded evacuation centres or shelters in which they live.
There are activities for mothers and babies to make them feel better. Local day workers teach mothers how to do relaxation exercises with their babies. Therapy groups help mothers share their feelings.
While mothers breastfeed peacefully, children under 2 years old can play with toys from the early childhood development box.
A step toward recovery
For mothers to process their feelings is an important step toward recovery.
"Mothers haven't had time after the typhoon to express their feelings," explains ACH psychologist Nuria Díez Carrillo. "They have been too busy trying to find food and water for their children, to protect them. They are exhausted, scared and under stress, and this has affected their attachment with their children."
"All mothers have lost key people in their lives, but have not had time to assimilate it," continues Ms. Díez Carillo. "In the tents is the first time they have an opportunity to stop, so they cry – which is good for them."
"It's good that they express their feelings and that they share them with other mothers in the same situation," she adds. "They are building a sense of community, helping one another."
Ms. Yuzol says that, when the typhoon came, she protected herself and her unborn baby by climbing to a taller house. Kathlyn was born in the public hospital. "I was very happy to have my baby," she says. Her husband's parents passed away in the typhoon.
ACH is an international organization that has been working in the Philippines for more than ten years. It is one of UNICEF's principal partners in a number of response efforts in Tacloban and across the region.