Real lives



Roy’s tale of survival

© UNICEF/Philippines/2011/Maitem
Flood survivor Roy*, 10, who lost his parents during the recent typhoon, is seen at the evacuation center in Santa Felomina in Iligan, Mindanao, Philippines weeks after typhoon Washi.

by Anna Villanueva

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines; January 5, 2012 – With the way his face lights up when someone talks to him or the ready smile he instantly offers, one wouldn’t think that 10 year old Roy* is facing the greatest test of his life.

In the early hours of December 17, 2011, floodwaters charged through a number of barangays (villages) in Iligan City in Mindanao, brought about by  Tropical Storm Washi (local name: Sendong).

At around 12 midnight, Roy was jolted awake from his sleep, being swept away by the uncontrollable current of floodwaters that entered their tiny house in Barinaut, Iligan City.

Survival instinct
Even with his eyes open, Roy could not see a single thing inside their house. He tried to call out to his three other siblings (aged 12, 11, and 3), but didn’t get an answer from any of them. Instinct told him to grab any object that will float his way. Roy shares, “I had to hold on to something so that I will not be carried away by the waters.” While holding on to a piece of wood and floating through their village, which at that time, had already turned into a mighty river, Roy had a sinking feeling that he had lost his entire family to the flashfloods. This was the last thought he had that evening.

“I don’t know if I fell asleep or lost consciousness that night. All I remember is waking up, being saved at sea. I was in a barge with other survivors,” Roy shares. He was pulled to safety by rescuers in the morning of December 18.

Searching for family
The little boy was then turned over to the Santa Filomena evacuation center at the Iligan City East High School. Roy had colds and a high fever when he arrived at the center. After trying to look for any relatives, neighbors or acquaintances who can positively identify and recognize the boy, volunteers at Santa Filomena found out that Roy had been completely separated from all of his family members.

Survivors from the village of Barinaut are having a hard time identifying Roy. The boy offers this possible explanation, “We just moved to Barinaut from Barangay Digkilaan  three months prior to the disaster. We still don’t know most of our neighbors and still don’t have a lot of friends in the village.”

Since being rescued, Roy is being taken cared of by the daycare workers assigned at the evacuation center. 

Risk factors facing children with missing parents
Some of the most devastating effects of a natural disaster are experienced by children. They are displaced, or worse, are orphaned or separated from their families. During the Sendong emergency, there are 21 Separated and Unaccompanied (SUC) children in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City.

These children suffer from unspeakable pain from the loss of parents or are traumatized by the frightening experience of flash flooding, mass panic, and trying to survive the chaos that a natural disaster brings.

When children are left unsupervised by parents or when are not reunited with their relatives, they can become vulnerable targets of possible violence and abuse. They can turn into victims of child trafficking, child labor or sexual exploitation.

Protecting children with missing parents
“UNICEF works closely with its partners, social workers, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to trace parents, siblings, or extended family in order to reunite children with them. UNICEF puts a high priority in reuniting children with their relatives so as to protect and preserve family unity, and give children a sense of normalcy after enduring a distressing experience,” Sarah Norton-Staal, UNICEF Child Protection Chief says.

UNICEF also works to address other immediate needs, including medical attention that separated children may have. Children are assisted and referred to partners and agencies that can give the appropriate help needed.

Counseling for family members who need help in taking care and providing support for reunited children are given, to ensure that children will have a loving and caring family environment.

It is also important to restore a sense of normalcy to displaced children, amidst all the uncertainties that they are facing after the disaster. Family involvement is highly encouraged to protect the psychosocial wellbeing of children. UNICEF has also provided recreation kits, which include toys and musical instruments, to children in evacuation centers so that they can play again, express themselves, and begin to get a sense of normality back in their lives.

Update on Roy
According to Jesus Far, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, they have recently received reports that Roy’s father is alive and has been located. UNICEF, together with its partners, is now in the process of verifying these reports to ensure that Roy is reunited with his family.

To get more information on now to help children in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro be reunited with their families, go to

*name has been changed to protect the identity of the child





 Email this article

Donate Now

unite for children