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Tacloban one month on: Helping children cope with trauma

Games and play organised by SOS Children at the People's Centre
Games and play organised by SOS Children at the People's Centre

One month after typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation across Tacloban, SOS Children and other charities are working hard to relieve the suffering of children. One of the best ways to help youngsters deal with the trauma of their experiences is to make sure they have places where they can play.

Charities such as SOS Children and UNICEF know how important it is to bring a sense of normality back to the children in Tacloban. This means providing areas where they can learn and play. But since public buildings are being used as shelters for homeless families, this is no easy task.

Through the Thomson Reuters news agency, a worker for the International Organisation for Migration reports how UNICEF is getting round this problem by erecting bamboo shelters in the grounds of primary schools. These shelters provide a place for families to go in the daytime while classes are held during school hours. At night, families can then return to sleep in the school.

Child-friendly spaces

In Tacloban and other affected areas, SOS Children is setting up child-friendly spaces where children can seek refuge from the devastation around them. One such site is at the SOS school in Tacloban, which was damaged in the typhoon and is currently undergoing repair work. In the meanwhile, we are offering day care to families from 10am to noon. The school is also providing lunch to around 50 children from the neighbourhood, who have been joining children from the Children’s Village.

One of the buildings which withstood the might of the typhoon was the theatre in Tacloban. This is being used as a People’s Centre, where around 100 families have sought shelter. Here, we have created a child-friendly space for children in one corner of the theatre’s library. The SOS team sing songs and play games with the children. These activities are essential for helping youngsters to overcome their traumatic experiences.

The power of games and play

Eight-year-old Maria is one of the children who has benefited from the toys and games. Maria survived being swept away during Typhoon Haiyan by holding onto a concrete column. Maria’s father and siblings also survived, but tragically her mother was taken by the water. The little girl experienced the grief of seeing her mother’s body caught in a nearby mango tree. The SOS team identified Maria as one of the children suffering from severe mental distress. We hope that the games and play at the theatre’s library will help her deal with the trauma of what has happened.

We will continue to offer day care and play activities in Tacloban to help the community’s traumatised youngsters. In the longer term, we want to restart lessons at the school as soon as buildings are safe, as well as to help rebuild local houses and other vital buildings.

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