By Philippa Day
ILIGAN CITY, Philippines, 20 March 2012 – Twelve-year-old Hannah Monsalan lives in Mandulog, one of the villages worst-hit by the flash floods that swept through northern Mindanao in December, following Tropical Storm Washi. The equivalent of one month’s rain fell overnight, swelling the Mandulog river to a destructive torrent, which crushed hundreds of families’ homes.
Hannah’s own small home was picked up by the swirling floodwaters and smashed into a large coconut tree. She survived by clinging to a small tree until she could be rescued. “I was swimming and I was screaming. And then I could no longer find my mother,” she said. “My hair got stuck in a pile of wood, and I was suddenly under water. I thought it was the end for me. Then I swam for safety.”
Her mother did not make it.
And in the wake of the disaster, her entire community was left vulnerable, surrounded by stagnant water and threatened by waterborne diseases. Many families were without shelter, and many children were burdened by their memories of the floods.
Keeping children safe in disaster’s aftermath
In the aftermath of disasters, UNICEF’s top priority is to help vulnerable children recover as quickly as possible. UNICEF provided water and hygiene kits for the families living in evacuation centres, including water filters so they could collect and safely drink rain water. This has helped to prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
Rosa Serenuela, who is responsible for counting and distributing all the relief supplies coming into Mandulog, said, “Here in our barangay, we received 849 personal hygiene kits from UNICEF. We also received 12 portalets, 4 are now in Upat and Tubaran Elementary School, 4 at the evacuation centre and another 4 in Mandulog Elementary School…UNICEF’s assistance helped us a lot.”
UNICEF is also conducting screenings for child malnutrition, distributing micronutrient powders and Vitamin A supplements, and counselling parents on how best to feed their children. Children with severe acute malnutrition are referred to partners for treatment, with many receiving UNICEF-provided ready-to-use therapeutic foods. A measles vaccination campaign is also under way.
Protecting children from abuse, exploitation or trafficking is also a key part of UNICEF’s work. In northern Mindanao, UNICEF is helping the government identify, trace and reunite separated or unaccompanied children with their families, and is providing follow-up care to ensure their safety and well-being.
But the availability of adequate shelter remains a challenge, and the past few weeks have seen an increase in violence in the displacement camps in northern Mindanao, including gender-based violence. Relief groups are working to increase security and protection services in these areas.
Schools offer vital services
Hannah’s school, Mandulog Elementary, was completely washed away in the disaster. Elsa Abdul, her teacher, said that many students were reluctant to begin classes held at three UNICEF-provided tents. Before the January resumption of classes, Ms. Abdul and her fellow teachers went around the community, speaking to families about the school bags, supplies, sanitation facilities, safe water, and free hot meals that would be provided by UNICEF – incentives to return to class.
“One of the main reasons our students came back to school was because of UNICEF’s support,” she said. More than 50 per cent of the school’s students turned up at school on the first day of class, with many more returning over the following days.
Teachers were coached on incorporating psychosocial support into classroom activities. “I’m trying to help Hannah and my other students with their psychosocial recovery by asking them to write about their experiences,” Ms. Abdul said.
UNICEF has also set up child-friendly spaces in flood-affected areas. In these spaces, trained volunteers help children recover through structured play, art therapy and storytelling. UNICEF has provided 10 tarpaulin mats and 17 Child-Friendly Spaces kits for these activities in Mandulog.
UNICEF is also working to strengthen the local ability to survive future disasters. UNICEF specialist Nonoy Fajardo said, “UNICEF is also working with national government agencies and local government units in the Philippines to help them prepare to better respond to emergencies, as well as to prevent and mitigate future disasters.”
Hannah hopes these efforts will help her long-term recovery. “I want to finish school even though we no longer have a house,” she said.
Ms. Abdul is optimistic about her prospects. “Hannah is one of the top students in my class. She comes to school every day and always works very hard,” Ms. Abdul said. “I’m searching for a scholarship for her so that she can go to high school.”