Nov 292013
Under tall coconut trees in Hernani, Eastern Samar, about 30 children huddled around Grade 8 teacher Lurlien Bonga holding scraps of paper on which to write down their lesson for the day.

The spacious land where the children gathered was where the Pedro E. Candido Memorial National High School once stood. After Typhoon Yolanda, all that was left of the school were torn-down rooms, mountains of debris and a few coconut trees.

The students, whose ages and grade levels vary from one another, had to make do with jotting down notes on scraps of paper and sharing pencils with their classmates because they lost their school supplies in the storm.

Grade 7 teacher Lina Camarillo, who teaches students in another makeshift classroom, was unable to hold back tears in a television interview as she shared her current predicament.

“Yung mga instructional materials namin, nawala. Naanod lahat. Paano naman namin matuturuan ang mga bata?” she asked.

But despite the lack of teaching materials and proper classrooms, several teachers in this small town gather children everyday to teach them new lessons.

Child Friendly Spaces

With the help of teachers and toys, the young survivors of the typhoon are slowly beginning to recover from the trauma brought about by the calamity three weeks ago.

Last week, the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) opened four Child Friendly Spaces in Tacloban City filled with toys and learning materials for children.

The Child Friendly Spaces, launched in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, aims to provide a safe and familiar haven where children can play and mingle with their peers. The four play areas are housed in tents and are manned by UNICEF volunteers and the children’s guardians.

Several studies have shown that play therapy and interaction with other children speed up the recovery of kids from post-disaster trauma.

“The reason for having the Child Friendly Spaces is that we want to provide kids an identifiable place where they and their caregivers can go to for play and learning,” said Marge Francia, a media officer for UNICEF Philippines, adding these activities “help the kids take their minds off the tragedy.”

According to the United Nations, about 4.6 million children were affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda. Of this number, about 1.6 million were internally displaced.

Dr. Anthony Leachon, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians, said just like adults, children are also prone to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a calamity.

“Yung trauma nagma-manifest as depression, minsan hindi sila makatulog o kaya kinakabahan na lang bigla. Sometimes nagkaka-nightmares sila. Kahit na matagal nang tapos yung [calamity], minsan naaalala pa rin nila yung nangyari,” he said in an interview Friday with GMA News Online.

Other symptoms of PTSD include bedwetting and being unusually clingy to an adult, according to the website of the National Institute for Mental Health.

Bringing back a sense of normalcy

Leachon said the presence of schools and play areas in disaster areas will help children recover faster from trauma.

“By having kids go to school, they are able to establish routines and interact with other children. This helps bring back a sense of normalcy in their lives,” he said.

Aside from establishing Child Friendly Spaces in all typhoon-affected areas, UNICEF also plans to build Temporary Learning Spaces where students can hold classes away from the sun’s glare or rain.

Francia said the Temporary Learning Spaces will soon be built in the affected areas in partnership with the Department of Education.

While it may take several months before Yolanda’s young survivors fully recover from trauma, Francia said parents and volunteers have noticed some positive changes in the children since they began attending play therapy sessions and classes at Child Friendly Spaces.

“May mga parents na nakakapansin na nagba-bounce back na yung mga anak nila, mas masayahin na,” she said.

From having only a handful of children under their care, UNICEF volunteers now engage more than 120 kids in play-learning activities.

“This shows that there’s great demand for these centers,”  Francia said. “In our own way, we’re helping the kids go back to being being their happy and playful selves.” — KBK, GMA News

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