Real lives



Protecting children in distress

By Alex Gregorio

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines, 20 December 2011–Janella Delfino, aged 9, quietly sat on the front steps of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish Church in Barangay Hinaplanon this sunny afternoon.
Janella’s aunt, Arlene Pakada, sat beside her, hugging her. Like her niece, Arlene stared most of the time into space, her face blank and unmoving.

On a clear day such as this, they might appear from a distance as a mother and child, waiting on the front steps of a church for mass to start.

But today is like no other. Arlene has lost both her children, aged 1 and 7 years old, to the murky floodwaters that raged through Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro cities on the night of December 16.
Janella, meanwhile, arguably has lost more. Both her father and mother drowned in the floods, and she lost the only home she has known all her life.

Women and children in anguish
Janella and Arlene have found temporary shelter in San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish, one of the evacuation centres in Iligan City that is filled with women and children going through great emotional pain.

“She cries every morning when she wakes up,” Arlene said, herself in tears. “Each day since we got here, she wakes up crying. She still looks for her mother each morning; even though she knows the truth.”

Janella survived the terrible tragedy because of the foresight of her grandfather. Correctly guessing that the coming storm would bring floods, the man took Janella to a house on higher ground before the storm arrived.
Arlene, on the other hand, survived with the help of her friends and neighbours. There were eight of them that went out that Friday night. As they were walking towards home shortly before midnight, the floods arrived.
Forming a human chain, Arlene’s friend, Jocelyn Bado, said they refused to let go of each other until everyone was safe.

Child protection during disasters
In the ensuing chaos of a natural disaster, many children end up scarred and separated from their parents and families. Some like Janella, who end up losing both parents, suffer unspeakable anguish in the aftermath of such a calamity.

When children are displaced because of natural disasters, they are also cut off from social support, family and schooling.
UNICEF puts a high priority on working for family unity and reuniting separated children with their parents, siblings, or extended family. The frightening experience of flash flooding, mass panic and losing family members and friends is highly distressing to children.

Providing a sense of normalcy through play and family involvement, even amidst all uncertainties, must be promoted in affected communities, such as those in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, to protect the psychosocial wellbeing of children.

UNICEF is mobilizing teams of child protection volunteers to work with children who have been affected by this disaster, particularly those exhibiting signs of profound stress. UNICEF has also dispatched tents and recreation kits to facilitate the creation of child-safe spaces in the evacuation centres, where children can meet, play and begin to get a sense of normality back in their lives.

Sexual and gender-based violence, moreover, can be a disturbingly common feature of emergencies. In times of extreme weather disasters, girls and women may be the target of sexual violence. UNICEF works to protect children and women from such acts, focusing its efforts in three areas: prevention; protection; and recovery and reintegration.

UN joint appeal
UNICEF, together with its U.N. partners, has launched a appeal for US$ 28.6 million (UNICEF $5.8 million)  to assist affected children and their families in the wake of Tropical Storm Washi (local name Sendong).
The appeal will support UNICEF’s response in the areas of water and sanitation, health and nutrition, education and child protection.

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