It was a typical sight in the city of Cagayan de Oro; a group of young boys sitting together, laughing heartily as they exchanged jokes.
But just days ago, they experienced one of the most horrible disasters of their young lives. Tropical depression Washi hit the southern Philippines in the middle of the night, catching thousands of families off guard and killing over a thousand people. Local authorities have reported that about 350,000 people have been affected by the flash floods resulting from the storm.
Washi struck just as six-year-old Jeric was preparing for his annual Christmas party at school. “I was very excited when I saw my teachers preparing gifts for us,” he said. “There were dolls for girls and toy robots for boys.”
“But the party has been cancelled because of the floods,” he added.
Jeric may not receive a toy robot from his teachers this year, but he is still having fun with his friends, even though disasters like Washi usually affect children deeply, requiring psychosocial assistance to help them cope with the sudden changes to their lives.
Jeric is one of thousands of children in the Philippines who will be spending the holiday season in an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro. It’s a small space, currently occupied by more than 600 people who have been displaced by the flash floods. The government estimates that about 6,600 families in this city are crowded into 19 such evacuation centres. The most immediate needs of children and their families are food, water and sanitation items. In the longer term, they will require assistance to rebuild their homes, schools and livelihoods.
Jeric and his family have been staying in an evacuation centre managed by Save the Children, and its emergency response team is helping children and their families cope in the aftermath of the disaster. As so many of their belongings have been swept away, Save the Children will be providing basic hygiene items like soaps, shampoos and toothbrushes, as well as freshwater supplies.
Child-friendly spaces will also be established to provide children with a safe, supervised place to play, giving their parents the opportunity to return to their home and start to rebuild their lives.
The support that Jeric receives at the evacuation centre is just the beginning of his journey to rebuild his life. The floods have swept away all of his belongings, including his books, pens and other school materials.
“I can no longer go to school next year since I no longer have my school stuff,” he said.
Story by: Ariel Balofiños