Four months after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, the wounds are deep – but the healing has begun
TACLOBAN, Philippines, 6 March 2014 – Loss cuts deep here, four months after one of the most powerful and destructive typhoons on record killed more than 6,000 people.
Today, as the Philippines continues to recover and rebuild, 13-year-old Jerome Nabong wades through the ankle-deep water where his house used to stand. The house was perched on sticks, over the water, until Typhoon Yolanda swept it away.
This stretch of the coast was covered with hundreds of these homes, before 8 November. Now, the houses are gone, and remnants of a few dozen sticks stand in the water.
Jerome spends a part of each day here, wading in the water, or at water's edge. He looks for coins, for anything of value that might help his family – his parents, himself, his five siblings – obtain food. They shelter in a rickety shack built, like before, on sticks, over the water. The roof is a plastic tarpaulin. You can see the sea through the cracks between the floorboards.
"My children get scared when the weather turns bad," says Jerome's mother, Vilma.
"They cry and cry, and want to evacuate to an emergency shelter, even if it's a small gust of wind, because they have flashbacks of the typhoon."
To help children like Jerome and his brothers and sisters recover from the trauma of the storm, UNICEF has been working with its partners to train teachers, day care workers and education authorities to provide psychosocial support.
Some 17,000 children in affected areas now have access to 89 child-friendly spaces, which give them a safe place to play and learn key life skills. One such space is set up just down the road from Jerome's shack, at the Tacloban City Convention Centre, which many people call the 'Astrodome'.
Returning to learning
Part of a child's recovery is getting back into school as quickly as possible.
To date, UNICEF and its partners have provided 430,000 children with learning materials, in affected areas.
Accessing clean water
For Jerome and his family, clean drinking water is a top concern. They are among the 930,000 people for whom UNICEF has restored access to safe water.
Jerome and his family received a kit with a portable plastic jug and water purification tablets. They also received a UNICEF hygiene kit with toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary napkins and bath and laundry soap.
Keeping up with jabs
The storm destroyed health care centres, which meant that many services were stopped suddenly – including routine immunizations.
In places like the island of Panay, UNICEF-supported health teams are traveling to remote areas and going door to door to register children for vaccination. Since November, more than 80,000 children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Some 55,000 children received vitamin A supplementation as part of a campaign that also screened for malnutrition.
Ruth Catalan has brought her 17-month-old daughter Jessica to a health centre to be vaccinated. The typhoon took the family's material possessions, including her husband's fishing boat, and nearly took Jessica's life.
"We were trapped inside our house, but we got a chance to run outside," says Ms. Catalan. "We made our way to the nearby tree where piles of haystacks were, and we climbed it. The first wave instantly washed our house away. We went up and tied ourselves to the tree and empty water containers so we can float. We prayed really hard that the water will subside. We already accepted that we will not live. My baby got injured in the foot. We were very thankful when the water was finally gone, but we're also crying because nothing was left."
Accounting for unaccompanied children
For those children separated from their families or guardians, UNICEF is using an innovative mobile phone application to document and share information in order to return them to their families, when possible. So far, 130 children have been identified as unaccompanied or separated. Trained female police officers are following up on them.
The road to recovery in the Philippines will likely take years. Much progress has been made, especially in getting children back into the classroom, restoring safe drinking water to people like Jerome Nabong and his family and ensuring that children like Jessica not miss their jabs. But much work remains, to fulfill the promise of child rights here, and to build back better.