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Three months on, back to Tacloban, and back to school

By Gregor Henneka with Zafrin Chowdhury

It has been three months since Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda levelled Edegario's house and he and his family fled Tacloban for Manila. Little by little, Edegario, his brothers and his parents are rebuilding their lives.

Three months after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Philippines, for the children hit hardest by the destruction, the long trek back to normalcy has begun.

TACLOBAN, Philippines, 7 February 2014 – Edegario, 12, points to where his house used to be. Two broken wooden poles are all that remains. 

Edegario, his parents and two brothers are living with his uncle, in the house next door, which was heavily damaged. The families have repaired it as much as they can with tarpaulin, panel sheets – whatever they could find in the debris.

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/JReyna
Edegario and his family stand in front of their uncle's house, where they are staying now. It was heavily damaged by the typhoon, but they were able to repair it.

Three months on

Edegario's Tacloban neighbourhood was heavily affected by Typhoon Yolanda. In the three months since the typhoon ravaged the area, most of the debris – which was a few metres high in places – has been cleared. But the neighbourhood bears signs of massive devastation. 

"There were a lot of trees around here that got uprooted," says Edegario. "As you can see, only a few are standing."

"Our school was beautiful with a lot of flowers and greenery," he continues. "We used to stay late after school to play volleyball and tumbang preso." Tumbang preso is a traditional children's game where you throw your sandals, trying to hit a can.

Now, the children go home before dark; electricity is scarce in the area.

Edegario is in Grade 6. He attended Manlurip Primary School before the typhoon. His favourite subjects are English, math and social studies. School has recently reopened, but not in the old building.

"Our classroom was destroyed with most parts of the school," explains Edegario. The children now attend class in a UNICEF tent, with learning supplies provided by UNICEF. Since the school reopened, classes have run from Monday to Saturday to help the children catch up on lessons they missed.

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/JReyna
Edegario shows his former classroom, which was destroyed and washed out by the typhoon.

The road back to Tacloban 

After the typhoon hit and the storm surge levelled their house, Edegario's family managed to reach the airport. There, they waited for three days and nights to find a space on a Korean military C-130 plane to evacuate from the disaster zone. "We had not had anything to eat for three days," he recalls. They queued for space on a plane even at night. "It was my first time on a plane," says Edegario. "It was crowded. I felt dizzy."

In Manila, they found shelter with Edegario's grandmother. Community members offered food and drink for the typhoon survivors, and the local priest helped take care of them. But there was no work for his father Edegario Sr. and older brother Joel, so the family decided return to Tacloban.

"We received 4,500 pesos from [the Department of Social Welfare and Development] to return to Tacloban," says Edegario Sr. "But fares were expensive. Fortunately, the youngest boy – Edmond – got a free ride."

"Now, I want to rebuild the house, but I don’t have money to buy wood," says Edegario Sr. His pedicab, the bicycle taxi that brought him his modest income, was ruined. Now, he cultivates a small rice field for income.

The family still relies on relief goods. "I haven’t eaten meat or pork since [the typhoon] – only canned goods and some vegetables," says Edegario. A student feeding programme started this week at his school. "Today, we had porridge and egg," he says.

©UNICEF Philippines/2014/JReyna
Edegario with his classmates attend a 6th-grade class inside a UNICEF Temporary Learning Space

Three months later, hundreds and thousands of families affected by Typhoon Yolanda, like Edegario's, continue to struggle to get back on their feet. 

With all the challenges they are facing, there is only one thing Edegario wishes for: "I wish we are – and will be – safe."

In the meantime, there is school. Edegario and 9-year-old Edmond attend their lessons. Joel, who is 21, is a teacher. He started to work again just a few days ago.

UNICEF Philippines Representative Angela Kearney says, "UNICEF considers education integral to humanitarian response. We help bring children back to learning as quickly as possible."

"Returning to school is a joy for children," she continues. "We need to make learning a really positive experience for children, for their families and for their communities."

UNICEF has supported some 420,000 children from the worst-hit areas, who are now back in school, in repaired, makeshift and tent schools – and using learning materials from school-in-a-box, early childhood and recreational kits. The back-to-school campaign will continue to expand, focusing on the new school year, which begins in June 2014.

 

 
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