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Providing refuge for the children of the Philippines

Our child-friendly spaces give children a place to play and be together
Our child-friendly spaces give children a place to play and be together

Of the 12.9 million affected by Typhoon Haiyan, 5.4 million are children. Over three quarters of a million children lost their homes to the storm. Across eight locations in the worst-hit areas, we are creating child-friendly spaces where children can enjoy some respite from the horrors that surround them, while parents do what they can to rebuild their lives.

Two weeks after the typhoon, the situation in Tacloban remains dire. In the cloying heat, families must be increasingly adaptable and inventive to survive in a city razed to the ground. Fuel for cooking is largely salvaged from the rubble. Smoke from bonfires can be seen drifting across the city as people burn debris and belongings to prevent the spread of disease, and create space amid the destruction.

Tacloban burning rubble
Smoke shrouds Tacloban as people burn rubble to prevent disease spreading

A city in pieces

The four volunteers responsible for our two child-friendly spaces in Tacloban travelled all the way from our Children's Village in Davao - a journey of nearly 400 miles on badly damaged roads. They remember the scenes they were met with when they arrived after the storm: “As we passed by the muddy streets, children held out banners that read ‘SOS help!’ or ‘There are eight families here - we need food’. A strong smell lingered everywhere.”

Though it wasn’t clear at the time, it later emerged that the smell came from rotting corpses by the roadside outside the Children’s Village. Two weeks on, the bodies still remain, making up many of the 1,600 individuals unaccounted for in Tacloban. Animal carcasses float in rivers and watercourses, contaminating the drinking water supply. SOS Children’s Hanne Rustad, who is in the city now, says, “The whole of Tacloban has gone to pieces, and public services do not work. Many people are afraid to go back.”

Children playing football Tacloban
Children play while their parents try to rebuild their lives

Places of refuge

“We needed to quickly establish a place for children to feel secure, a place to play and distract them from the horror that surrounds them. We had to think fast and improvise,” says Rosebe Hilot, who helped establish our child-friendly spaces. Run by our four volunteers from Davao - one a psychologist, and the other three trained social workers - they provide a place where children can sing and play games, draw and do drama. Somewhere they can be children.

“For parents,  it provides a window of opportunity to rebuild their lives,” says SOS Children’s Shubha Murthi. Much time is spent finding ways to survive the ongoing crisis and piece together a future. Every day, families must queue for relief, reconstruct their houses, look for work, and keep going until large-scale reconstruction brings some normality back into their lives.

So far, we have established two child-friendly spaces - one at our Children’s Village, and the other three miles away, deep in the Tacloban community. Each one caters for between 40 and 60 children. Over the coming days, we will open a further six child-friendly spaces across the worst-hit areas of the country, and we hope to expand the ways we are helping to include the provision of a lunchtime meal for the children in our care. With resources limited, however, this remains very much dependent on supplies.

Doll's head Tacloban
Desperate measures: we salvaged, cleaned and repaired toys from amid the debris

Challenges overcome with the help of the community

We have had to be resourceful, says one of our volunteers: “Roofing materials and toys were needed to provide child friendly spaces. But after the flooding, everything at the SOS Children’s Village in Tacloban was destroyed. In desperation, we found some old toys in the dirt. We quickly cleaned them and put them to good use.”

Volunteer Maridel Inoc remembers the community’s enthusiasm for the project: “From the moment we arrived to set up the temporary structures, word got around and the local people offered to help us in every way they could. You could see their faces light up as they discovered what a child-friendly space is. For the little ones it is toys, games and a lot of fun.”

Small girl TaclobanThe time to act

Now more than ever, this extra care is needed. As time passes, the situation is becoming more and more desperate for children in Tacloban and other hard-hit areas. Damaged pipes and power outages means many water points are down, and there is a serious contamination risk even where the supply has been restored. Coupled with this, damage to hospitals and medical equipment, and the death or injury of many medical staff, mean that the risk of disease - from measles and respiratory disease to cholera and typhoid - is rising.

Education has been hit too. Millions of children are out of schools, with numerous schools destroyed and thousands of teachers missing. In the islands that make up Eastern Visayas - where Tacloban is located - two thousand schools were destroyed in the storm, impacting on 590,000 children. In the Ormoc area, also in Eastern Visayas, well over half of all schools have been converted into evacuation centres.

“With the limited resources available, the team here is doing everything possible to ensure that families and the wider community continue to unite for the sake of their children,” says Shubha Murthi. Most importantly, we must ensure that children emerge from the disaster with their childhood intact. As Shubha says: “A child should not have to share the burden faced by their parents.”

To help us provide shelter to as many children as possible, please give to our emergency appeal...