A healing sanctuary

Almost four months after typhoon Pablo ravaged southern Philippines, the people especially those in the hardest hit areas are still reeling from the trauma caused by its massive devastation on their houses, towns, properties, and on their lives.

In Compostela Valley, an area not used to big storms, floods, and landslides, the residents were caught off guard as the typhoon overturned their wooden houses and destroyed their schools, farms, and livelihood.

Rodel Lino, a barangay chairman in Sitio Taytayan, Andap, New Bataan, said the children were in shock when Pablo struck their village, uprooting coconut trees and causing the rivers to swell.

"It was a very traumatic experience for our children, especially those aged three and above," he recalls.

Four-year-old Maica Gabriel said that she felt too much fear when the strong winds threatened to destroy their house. She cried and clung tightly to her mother throughout the ordeal.

"There were nights that my daughter would cry in the middle of the night as the horrible experiences go back to haunt her in her dreams," shares her mother Laila.

Jean Lino, another four-year old girl, who saw the house of their neighbor being swept away by the raging waters, is also going through the same experience.

Meanwhile, Jairmaine Dahay, principal of Alimadmad Elementary School in Brgy. Concepcion, Montevista, said that their school was a total mess after the typhoon, as the students' notebooks, papers and other things were completely destroyed.

The school staff tried their best to bring things back to normal but the effect of the storm on the children was just too much.

"Children lost their eagerness and optimism to go back to school, as all their things were destroyed," says Grade 6 teacher Rosario Troya, adding that only 10 percent of the pupils returned to school while the rest opted to stay with their families in the evacuation centers.

CHILDREN FIRST

Plan International (Plan) was among the first non-profit organizations that rushed to the affected areas a few days after the typhoon to heed the call of the victims. Volunteers braved the heavy rains, landslides and flooded roads in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental just to deliver relief goods, bottled water, and other basic needs to the victims, especially the children.

But more than these immediate needs, Plan focused its assistance in Compostela Valley on education and child protection.

Dahay said Plan arrived at their school with two huge tents that served as improvised classrooms while the school was being repaired. Plan also brought in new school supplies for the students.

"We arrived in Barangay Concepcion on Dec. 31, bringing school packs and kits filled with notebooks, papers, pens, and pencils. Other school needs were immediately sent by the first week of January," says Margarito Guasis, Plan's team leader in Compostela Valley.

According to Dahay, after the supplies were distributed, the kids starting returning to school, and their attendance continues to increase up to this time. Finally, things were going back to normal. Alimadmad Elementary School has a total population of 315 pupils and nine teachers.

"Plan International's prompt response to our situation resulted in a positive outcome for the children," Troya says.

Each teacher also received teaching kits from Plan that included boxes of chalk, pentel pens, bottles of ink, pens, lesson plans and rolls of Manila paper.

REBUILDING LIVES

Aside from school supplies, Plan also trained the teachers on how to conduct psychosocial therapy and other coping mechanisms so they can apply it to their pupils.

In Sitio Taytayan, Brgy. Andap, Plan funded the construction of a child-friendly building in the evacuation area. Brgy. chairman Lino says that this has become an important dwelling and healing sanctuary for the children. It is where the kids play, learn, eat and sleep. They are also currently undergoing psychosocial sessions that will last three to four months.

Sessions for kids aged three to six include storytelling, indoor games, drawing and coloring, while the seven to 12-year-olds have different activities. Meanwhile, older kids who are in the evacuation center in Taytayan are being educated on child rights and protection, aside from debriefing.

"I found the psychosocial processes very effective for our pupils," says Dahay. "They are now participating in classroom activities, and are becoming active in the learning process, unlike before when the nightmares of Pablo were still fresh in their minds."

Plan is using a child-centered community development (CCCD) program in all its interventions in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. CCCD, Plan's child rights approach enables children, families and communities to be active participants in their own development. The approach recognizes the link between poverty and rights, where poverty is both a cause and consequence of the denial of rights.

"Plan is an international humanitarian, child-centered development organization that envisions a world in which all children realize their full potential in societies that respect people's rights and dignity" says Mardy Halcon, communications officer of Plan.

For over 50 years now, Plan's work and investment in the country has centered around key issues affecting children - education, health, livelihood, governance, water and environmental sanitation, child protection and disaster risk reduction and management.

It is operating in the poorest provinces such as Masbate, Occidental Mindoro, Eastern Samar, Western Samar, Northern Samar, and Southern Leyte. Plan has also implemented projects in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Maguindanao, Compostela Valley, and Davao Oriental in Mindanao, and Tanay, Rizal in Luzon.

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