How a community was transformed by a child-friendly space
A community in Southern Leyte is changed by the unexpected healing and a new attitude towards violence and mental health that they got from a child-friendly space after Super Typhoon Odette (Rai).
San Ramon is a small barangay (village) in the Municipality of Bontoc, Southern Leyte. With just a little over a thousand residents, it is generally a peaceful community where people harmoniously live with each other. After Super Typhoon Odette (Rai), the community’s view on violence and mental health changed, alongside the strengthening of their bond, with the help of a UNICEF child-friendly space (CFS).
CFS, a key humanitarian intervention, creates a safe and nurturing environment for children to access learning activities, leisure, structured play, and recreation in the aftermath of an emergency. It also serves as a venue for social workers and CFS volunteers to identify children who are vulnerable to and at risk of abuse and violence so that their immediate referral to the necessary and apt services may be facilitated.
UNICEF works with partner, Plan International, in ensuring that CFS volunteers have the proper skills and knowledge to support the children in their community and help them regain a sense of normalcy after the typhoon.
According to Barangay Captain Ernesto Tacardon, Jr., the mental health and psychosocial services at the CFS has helped children cope with what they experienced during the typhoon, enabled them to go back to their daily routines, and allowed them to enjoy their childhood. “More importantly, because of what they are being taught at the CFS, the children of our barangay now know what abuse is, how they can protect themselves, and how to report such incidences,” he said.
This was echoed by Josephine Alilia, one of the San Ramon volunteers who oversee the day-to-day operations of the CFS. “Children and teenagers here have learned to identify various types of abuse, even bullying and catcalling, and they know where to seek help,” she shared. Like the rest of the volunteers, Josephine underwent training to be able to effectively cater to the children who visit the CFS.
The CFS also served as a place for adults, especially the volunteers, to better understand what children are going through and what they can do to address their woes. Beyond that, the CFS became a refuge for them to also heal from the stress that they themselves experienced during the onslaught of Odette.
“Children and teenagers here have learned to identify various types of abuse, even bullying and catcalling, and they know where to seek help”
Rosemarie Cabahug, also a volunteer, tearfully recalled the seemingly paralyzing feeling of helplessness when she witnessed a member of their community go through a stress-induced medical emergency in an evacuation center. “I was really scared because I thought they were going to die. It was a very tough moment for me, but I did what I could to help,” she recounted. "Volunteering at the CFS helped me heal and recover through time.”
The youngest volunteer, nineteen-year-old Andrew Franca, is overjoyed by the positive changes in their barangay. As a member of the LGTQIA+ community, he was able to open up more to his fellow volunteers and in the process, made them more aware and sensitive about what he and other youth members of the community feel. “When awareness is there, when education is there, the community feels safer. I am more confident to show what I have in me and share my talents. We were able to create a bond that helps boost the youth’s confidence,” he said.
Andrew added that because of the CFS, he and other young members of their community, including children with disabilities (CWDs), are able to maintain a good mental health status. There are currently 2 CWDs who actively participate at the San Ramon CFS. Through their daily interaction with fellow volunteers and other community members, they are able to amplify their voices and share their thoughts. The community, on the other hand, is able to collectively foster acceptance, inclusion, and participation.
“When awareness is there, when education is there, the community feels safer. I am more confident to show what I have in me and share my talents. We were able to create a bond that helps boost the youth’s confidence”
The volunteers are proud that they are helping empower the children and youth in their barangay while raising awareness on the prevention of violence, abuse, and exploitation during a challenging time for their community. “Knowing the fact that our children trust us more gives us a different kind of joy,” said Josephine. “The CFS really gave us something more than it was meant to.” More, in their case, is setting up a breastfeeding area and establishing a support system for mothers.
Ernesto, Josephine, Rosemarie, Andrew, together with the rest of the San Ramon volunteers, are all committed to continue what they have started even after the Odette response. They hope to be able to go through more training sessions to be able to foster a more peaceful and violence-free community where everyone feels safe and supported. “We are very grateful for being a CFS beneficiary. It helped us beyond what we have hoped for. We will carry on with everything that we have learned,” Ernesto said.
Andrew, for his part, assured that he and his fellow youth will continue working towards a better, more inclusive society. “We will always have the passion as long as the child protection issues are there. We all look forward to opportunities to be able to advocate for issues that we young people care about. We are hoping for a better society that really protects children and encourages the youth to be more productive.” ###