Among the ruins left by Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, the long path to recovery begins
By Angela Travis
COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Philippines, 28 December 2012 - Bernie Sambirin was excited for Christmas and the coming birth of her second child. But, all that changed on the night Typhoon Bopha hit New Bataan town in the southern Philippines. After the roof was ripped of her house, she ran with her mother and son to a nearby building where her husband worked.
“People were running with me, but I fell behind because I was slow, as I was protecting the baby. The rain was very strong, wind, a lot of things were falling…I fell because there were a lot of coconuts falling,” she remembers, perched on the bleachers of her current ‘home’, the town gymnasium.
“I got drowned in mud,” she continues. “My husband had a hard time getting me out because I was so heavy and I was in mud…The people were telling me not to give up hope and to think of my unborn child. That’s all I thought about because it was so deep.”
A third life
In villages and towns all over Compostela Valley, families are adjusting and trying to recover after Typhoon Bopha ripped apart their villages, homes and families. The storm killed more than 1,000 people, and, as of 18 December, had left 26,000 people in evacuation centres and 960,000 people living in the ruins of their homes, open areas or living with host communities. The two regions of Davao and Caraga sustained most of the damage and loss of life.
Esther Samonte wipes her eyes as she talks about how the typhoon affected her family. Only six months earlier, she says, she had lost her husband in a motorbike accident, and her daughter Christy had been injured.
“It happened around seven in the morning,” Ms. Samonte says of the typhoon. “Because of the panic and confusion during the typhoon, we were separated, and our neighbours said that she [Christy] was swept away by the floods.”
She was beside herself as she waited for news in the evacuation centre. Then, after an hour, neighbours brought in her daughter, wet – but alive.
“I am thankful to God that we are alive. For me this is her third life,” she says.
After the storm
Bernie Sambirin, who is seven months pregnant, sits in the New Bataan town gynmnasium - her home since the typhoon took her home and belongings, and very nearly took her life.
As soon as the storm had moved away, UNICEF joined the Government on assessment missions to the affected areas. Staff were shocked at the level of destruction brought by strong winds and flash floods.
Despite difficulties in reaching all of the affected areas, UNICEF, working with the Government and NGO partners, has begun providing clean water, sanitation and supporting education, nutrition and child protection services.
At a session run by Compostela Central Elementary School teachers, and supported by UNICEF and Plan International, children draw pictures of their experiences on the night of the storm. After sharing and explaining the pictures, they are guided to fold them into paper airplanes and make them fly as a way of relieving the stress and worry of the past weeks. They then burst into song and dance, as lively teachers guide the fun.
For many young children, such exercises are a way back into normal routine and a path to recovery.
UNICEF Child Protection Officer Rohannie Baraguir explains, “UNICEF is working closely with different line agencies as well as child protection partners to restore immediately a sense of normalcy and recreate a routine for the lives of these children. Through creation of child friendly spaces, it helps children to develop the language of emotions, and these activities also help them realize that there are people around them, there are people that love them – and there are people who are willing to listen to them even in the midst of an emergency.”
In the coming weeks
According to health and nutrition specialist with World Vision Marijo Gomez, “These children were quite sad at the start, but when they came back and met new friends, they have adjusted to this new environment. However, there is a need to sustain these kinds of activities for them to move on and enjoy their lives.”
It will be many weeks before these children know how and where they will be living next, but at least they are escaping those realities for a few hours every day. UNICEF will continue to support psychosocial sessions for recovery of all of the children affected most by Typhoon Bopha.
UNICEF is appealing for $12.9 million to fund the emergency response in the areas of water, sanitation, nutrition, education and child protection for six months.