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At a glance: Philippines

Youth helping children and families recover from Tropical Storm Washi in the Philippines

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Brown
Peter Galve helps 6-year-old Robin with a math lesson at an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.

By Andy Brown

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines, 6 March 2012 – Seventeen-year-old Kim Peter Galve tutors a group of young children in a child-friendly space at an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, one of the towns worst hit by Tropical Storm Washi (locally known as Sendong) last December. Over 130 families are living in very small quarters with little comfort or privacy.

This CFS has been carved out by a UNICEF-supplied tarpaulin mat. Here, Kim and other young volunteers are working to help children who survived the floods keep up with some basic math skills.

“What does five plus two equal?” Kim asks in English, holding up a piece of paper with numbers drawn on.

“Seven!” the children shout in unison.

Six-year-old Robin* climbs onto Kim’s lap and gives him a spontaneous hug, grinning broadly.

“I come here to help out every day for two hours before school,” Kim says. “I wanted to help the children forget their upsetting experiences through play and learning.”

Youth taking the lead

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Brown
Peter Galve with his grandmother, Erlinda Padere, outside their flood-damaged family home in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.

Kim is one of 10 ‘youth focal points’ at the centre who assist staff and volunteers from Community and Family Services International (CFSI), a UNICEF-supported Philippines-based NGO that provides services for children in 12 evacuation centres.

“The youth focal points were nominated by their local communities. We trained them how to work with children, assist with educational activities and look out for children at risk of abuse,” said Binladin Tiolo, a CFSI project officer.

“UNICEF has helped us with training, materials and uniforms for the volunteers,” he adds. “They’ve given us all the tools we need to set up and run the child-friendly spaces, including recreational play kits.”

A family’s determination to help

Kim’s dedication to helping his community recover began with his own family’s experience in the storm and the floods that followed.

“The storm came at night while we were sleeping,” Kim remembers. “The first floor was completely flooded in minutes, and our furniture was washed out and destroyed.”

The flash floods were the worst in recent memory, and local people were unprepared for their ferocity. “There has never been a flood like this before, even in my lola’s [grandmother’s] lifetime,” Kim says. “We were afraid we would all drown. We couldn’t even open the front door because of the water pressure outside. I remember my mother panicking and shouting. I was very scared. I thought, ‘What can I do to help?’”

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Brown
A girl plays at a UNICEF-supported child friendly space at an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.

Although her immediate family all survived, her extended family was not so lucky.

“My 92-year-old aunt and her daughter both died that night,” Ms. Padere says. “They were trapped in their house when the waters rose. They managed to break a hole in a screen and get the granddaughter Dixie out, but they were trapped inside and drowned. Dixie survived by clinging to a log.”

UNICEF’s response

An estimated 624,600 people were affected by the disaster, including 430,500 who were displaced from their homes. Many children have been separated from their parents and are at risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

UNICEF’s is working with community members like Kim to help these families recover. The child-friendly space where Kim works is just one of many interventions, which also include psychosocial care and support for children as well as family tracing and reunification.

“We are working with the government to set up a database of separated and unaccompanied children,” Rohannie Baraguir, UNICEF Child Protection Officer. “So far, we have identified 53 cases, of whom 32 have been reunited with their families. The others are being cared for by relatives or social workers.”

But more funds are needed for UNICEF to continue its child protection work in the affected areas, and to expand programmes to children living outside the evacuation centres.
“The government is aiming to resettle those families who have lost their homes by June, but for now they have to stay in evacuation centres or tent cities,” says Nonoy Fajardo, head of UNICEF’s temporary office in Cagayan de Oro. “We currently have enough funds to continue operating here for another month or two. After that, if we don’t get more funds, we’ll need to scale back our activities or even shut down the office.”

*Some names have been changed to protect children’s identity.



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