By Andy Brown
ILIGAN, Philippines, 16 March 2012 – Ten-year-old Joy Crizelle lives with her grandfather, sister, two aunts and uncles, and a nephew in a small one-room hut at an evacuation centre in Barangay Mandulog, in Iligan. Their village was one of the worst affected by the flash floods that followed Tropical Storm Washi in December.
“We were asleep in our house when the flood came,” Joy said. “We had to leave immediately. My grandfather brought blankets for me and my sister, but we left everything else behind. I was very scared. It was dark and the water was rising, and I could hear people crying out for help.”
Seeking higher ground
Her family briefly stayed at a neighbour’s house, and then moved to the evacuation centre. There, they live alongside hundreds of families.
“We’re not used to living like this,” said Joy’s grandfather, Ismael. “It’s uncomfortable and we don’t always have enough food to eat. Joy’s uncles work by the river, panning for gold, but I’m jobless. We can’t move back to our old house because the area has been declared unsafe.”
Joy’s parents are both absent, working elsewhere in the country, but the family remains close-knit. “Before the floods came, we were 100 per cent happy,” Ismael said. “Now we are 50 per cent happy.”
A new school
Joy’s school, Mandulog Elementary, was completely destroyed by the raging flood waters. All that is left are two basketball hoops and the corner of one wall, grim reminders of the disaster. But on 3 January, a new school opened, bringing some normalcy back to the children’s lives.
UNICEF provided the tent classrooms, teaching materials, portable toilets, cooking equipment and back-to-school kits, and the local government donated the land. “We are very grateful to UNICEF for their support,” said school principal, Zenaida Simon. “It is good for the children to be back at school… Here, they can start to get back to normal.”
Almost everyone in the area was affected by the disaster, and Ms. Simon is no exception. “Our house is on two floors and the ground floor was flooded up to neck level,” she recalled. ”All of us, students and teachers, are still adjusting to the new situation.”
In Barangay Mandulog, UNICEF is also providing water and sanitation kits for families living in the evacuation centre, including water filters allowing them to collect and safely drink rain water. Nutrition surveys and school feeding programmes are helping tackle malnutrition and attract children back to the classroom.
In other evacuation centres, UNICEF is providing breastfeeding tents and child-friendly spaces where children can play and learn. UNICEF is also working with the government to reunite separated and unaccompanied children with their families, to support children’s emotional recovery, and to report cases of neglect, abuse or violence against children.
“UNICEF was one of the first agencies to arrive in northern Mindanao after the floods,” said Nonoy Fajardo of UNICEF. “We had prepositioned supplies and staff in the south of the island and in Manila, which were delivered here within days. After that, we started working on distribution and building the capacity of local government and NGOs in the area. The fact that there have been no major outbreaks of disease here is a testament to the effectiveness of the early response.”
But UNICEF urgently needs more funds to continue its health and education work in the affected areas, as well as to expand programmes to children living outside evacuation centres.
“The government is aiming to resettle those families who have lost their homes by June, but for now they have to stay in evacuation centres or tent cities,” Nonoy continued. “We currently have enough funds to continue operating here for another month or two. After that, if we don’t get more funds, we’ll need to scale back our activities or even shut down the office.”