UNICEF tents bring back learning, play and health services in Siargao after Typhoon Odette
Protecting children's rights to education, health, play and safety
Things seemed to be going back to normal at Mabuhay Elementary School in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte.
After two years of learning at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, the school finally resumed face-to-face classes. This was a welcome development for both students and teachers.
“The modules were very difficult,” said 11-year-old Princess Culdora. “Alone at home, I didn’t know how to answer them. My mother would try to help, but sometimes she couldn’t answer them either.”
“We would try to visit each student at home a few times a week,” shares Ainie Porpayas, a Grade 4 teacher. “Some of the houses were harder to reach, and we could only stay long enough to answer questions they might have already been thinking about for days. When we went back to face-to-face classes, I could actually guide the students as they’re answering.”
But just when things were looking up, Typhoon Odette (international Name: Rai) came in December and turned their world upside-down again.
Fearing their homes would not withstand the onslaught, both Princess and Teacher Alyanah thought the safest place to evacuate to was Mabuhay Elementary. Little did they know they would end up witnessing the destruction of their beloved school.
“The glass windows exploded and the roof was peeled away,” Princess recalled. “We huddled in the bathrooms as my sibling screamed ‘make it stop!’ I thought we wouldn’t make it.”
Although they made it out alive, the typhoon damaged every classroom in the compound – along with, seemingly, every hope that classes would go back to normal.
"It broke my heart," Teacher Ainie admits. “Seeing everything we had worked so hard for, all the materials we prepared, just disappear.”
Temporary Learning Spaces
Today, however, the familiar sound of happy schoolchildren is back in Mabuhay Elementary – thanks to UNICEF tents that are being used as temporary classrooms.
UNICEF tents were designed to be used in humanitarian response and emergency contexts. They are flexible and customizable to suit their purpose, and comfortable for its users regardless of the location and weather conditions.
In Mabuhay Elementary, the tent has been set up as a Temporary Learning Space, allowing for the resumption of limited in-person classes of students in Grades 1 to 4. As most of the school supplies were destroyed in the typhoon, UNICEF also distributed a school-in-a-box kit and learner kits to every student from kindergarten to Grade 6.
These measures have provided renewed inspiration for students like 11-year-old Rab Castillon. Rab only moved to Siargao early last year to escape COVID-19 in Manila – only to find himself in the middle of the strongest typhoon to ever hit the island. Still, Rab looks onwards to pursuing his dreams.
“The kit contained a sketch pad which I can use to practice drawing. One day, I’ll become an architect, and I’ll come back here and rebuild this school.”
Child Friendly Spaces
Temporary Learning Spaces are only one of the ways tents have been used in Siargao Island’s, as part of UNICEF's Typhoon Odette emergency response.
In the town of San Benito, a UNICEF tent is being used as a Child Friendly Space.
“Because playgrounds, schools, and even their own homes were badly damaged, these kids have no areas where they can just play. This is a safe haven for them,” says France Donoso, a Field Assistant from UNICEF partner Community and Family Services International.
In the tent, France and other volunteers provide toys and facilitate sports and play activities for over 60 children. While it may just seem like fun and games, France says the Child Friendly Space accomplishes something more vital.
“It’s actually very hard for children to unpack trauma after an event like the typhoon. They can’t just undergo regular therapy. So through playing, sharing, and even just interacting with other kids, we help them realize there is still hope.”
Rural Health Units
Various municipalities on the island also reeled from the destruction of health centers post-Odette.
“Emergency situations are when these towns need health services the most,” says Dr. Martin Parreño, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist. “The circumstances following a typhoon make children especially prone to communicable diseases like diarrhea, whooping cough, and pneumonia.”
In eight Siargao towns, UNICEF tents serve as Rural Health Units. In addition to allowing for consultation and outpatient treatment, the tents also help local governments continue regular COVID-19 vaccination efforts, give assistance to pregnant and lactating mothers, and act as operations centers to coordinate emergency response.
To date, UNICEF tents have served over 32,000 individuals affected by Typhoon Odette in the provinces of Dinagat Islands and Surigao Del Norte.
UNICEF and partners continue to work on the ground to this day as children and families recover. You can help by donating at donate.unicef.ph.