Real lives



Back to School after Typhoon Pablo

by Meena Bhandari

Thousands of children continue to be displaced from their homes, and up to 95% of school buildings, classrooms and day care centres have been damaged or destroyed in the 4 most affected provinces following Typhoon Pablo that hit the island of Mindanao, in the archipelago nation of the Philippines last month.

Glenn Larabez is one child who couldn't wait to go to school again. 8-year-old Glenn usually attends a Grade 2 class in village number 18, New Bataan in the province of Compostela Valley. As he speaks about typhoon Pablo that destroyed his home and washed away his pet Alimokon bird (a wild dove) last month, his voice becomes quieter still, matching his tiny frame.

“My brother had a dream that the typhoon was coming. He lives in Manila, but he came back home the night of the typhoon and we all ran to a safe place on higher ground. The water was as high as the coconut trees,” Glenn says. “We would all be dead if it wasn’t for my big brother,” he adds innocently.

Glenn Larabez, playing in a UNICEF Temporary School after typhoon Pablo washed away his home and severely damaged his school. UNICEF Philippines/2013/MBhandari

Glenn and his family returned to their land after the typhoon to find nothing of their house had survived. “We came back to where our house had stood before the typhoon. But, then we couldn’t leave our land again because the muddy water was too fast and became too high. So we had to stay the night there. We ate bananas and raw food to survive.”

Only four of Glenn’s neighbouring houses survived Typhoon Bopha when it struck his village last December in one of the worst hit municipalities of New Bataan.

Glenn’s new home is the grandstand of the sports complex with his family and around 600 other men women and children. He sleeps on the wooden steps meant for sports fans and spectators, in a makeshift shelter.

“I miss doing my chores in my house, I miss washing up,” he says.  “I miss sleeping in my bed, I miss Alimokon, and I miss playing with my 6 cousins who are also missing,” he adds.

Glenn describes how his mother has been fainting in the grandstand, because of the memories of the typhoon. Glenn too has nightmares of the typhoon and is scared when it rains or when the wind picks up.

 “Children have been greatly affected but, because they continue to laugh and play on the outside, people don’t always appreciate the serious emotional difficulties they now face,” says Amin Abubakar, Education Specialist with UNICEF.

“Getting back to school, and beginning to talk about what happened to them in a safe secure environment with teachers who have been trained in psychosocial support, is vital so that children do not bury these memories,” he says.

Getting children back into school quickly after a disaster also reduces their risks and vulnerabilities to exploitation and abuse in other forms, like child labour or trafficking, which the region has been known for before the typhoon struck.

Meanwhile, Glenn plays checkers with his friends in a temporary school. “I can’t wait to get new books and start writing again,” he says.

Children playing in a UNICEF Temporary School in New Bataan, Compostela Valley. UNICEF Philippines/2013/MBhandari



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