A Larger-Than-Life Disaster and Response

Sunday, Feb. 16 marked the 100th day since Super Typhoon Yolanda — as Typhoon Haiyan is known in the Philippines — tore a path through the central Visayas region. One hundred days later, and the destruction I’ve seen since stepping off the plane almost makes it feel like Yolanda is still here. For such a small country, everything is larger than life here in the Philippines.

Hubert Par, a ChildFund sponsor relations officer who also serves on the Emergency Response Team, filled us in on the status of our response efforts in the Philippines, particularly in Tacloban City, where the devastation remains significant. The rest of the team in Tacloban introduced themselves, quickly affirming my confidence the relief campaign here was in good hands. Hubert mentioned that a local school would have a small presentation for us. 

I hopped in the van that would take me to the Sto. Niño Special Education Center, an elementary school for differently abled children. This school, like many others throughout the island of Leyte, served as an evacuation center for hundreds of families displaced by Yolanda. ChildFund had established a Child-Centered Space, a safe place where ChildFund staff and volunteers could address children’s fears and emotions in the wake of the super typhoon, and also connect with teachers and local government for the protection of children living under these difficult circumstances. 

A warm greeting at Sto. Niño for Anne and Philippines National Director Katherine Manik

When the van pulled into the school gates, I was greeted with a huge surprise: Several hundred students at Sto. Niño, their teachers and many parents had gathered in the school courtyard to greet me. I was ushered toward a podium, where a group of children began reading a story to the audience, describing my background. 

A dance number and a few songs performed by hearing-impaired children followed the introduction. Hubert had called this a small presentation, but this was an amazing full-blown performance they’d prepared. I looked to the ChildFund staff members around me, and they seemed equally surprised over how big this “small presentation” was. My gaze darted from face to face until I found Hubert, who explained that this is how the community members wanted to express their thanks. Like other things I saw since arriving in the Philippines, the community at Sto. Niño’s expression of thanks was larger than life. 

Then the community members showed me just why they were thankful. Inside a classroom was an exhibit showcasing just about every piece of material created at our Child-Centered Space established at the school. The immense volume of paper crafts, stories and other artwork on display was tremendous.

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Students present a dance.

It’s been 100 days since Yolanda, but it felt like I’d walked into a collection amassed over a year. Each piece contained a message of hope or gratitude. Each story, though carrying hints of grief over what the child had lost, also reflected joy over what remained. I was particularly amazed by one child’s illustration of what he wanted to be when he grew up. His dreams were so big, he wrote that it would take three lives for him to live them all: as a fireman, a soldier and then finally a superhero. 

Only then did I fully comprehend the larger-than-life gratitude the school community went to great lengths to express. If I was surprised to see how cheerful and resilient such a devastated community could be, they also surprised themselves, and they wanted to thank ChildFund staff and volunteers for dedicating the time and effort to work with their community and children to mount a response campaign that’s larger than life. Super Typhoon Yolanda still seems nearby in Leyte, but ChildFund’s still there too.

Children Caught in the Eye of Typhoon Haiyan

It was incredible to see ChildFund’s emergency response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines unfold last week.

When Haiyan struck the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 9, ChildFund staff from across the globe were in Bangkok, Thailand, as part of activities marking the 75th year of our founding. Representative staff from more than 50 countries had gathered to exchange ideas around innovations in our work for children, to discuss the changing environments in which children live and plan for how we can improve the impact of our work in the future.

We woke up Friday morning to learn that Haiyan was hitting the central area of the Philippines. We also woke up to a hotel with no electricity. Haiyan had also brought heavy rains to Bangkok, and a tree near our hotel came down in the night, taking out power lines. We started our meeting a little in the dark (figuratively and literally) and very sweaty with no air-conditioning in the 90+ humid weather.

By Saturday, reports from the Philippines started coming in. We learned Haiyan had devastated Tacloban and surrounding areas in the Visayas – where one-third of ChildFund’s project areas were located. We knew we had to respond.

REUTERS/Japan Meteorological AgencyNOAA, Courtesy of Trust.org

Immediately, our emergency response systems were set in motion. Katherine Manik, our national director for the Philippines briefed the 12 CEOs of the ChildFund Alliance, just as we were starting our semi-annual meeting. She shared an incredible satellite image of Haiyan just as it was hitting the country – the scale of the typhoon was hard to comprehend – what may turn out to be the highest winds ever recorded had just plowed through an area where 10 million people were living in homes that could not withstand such force (really, what buildings could?). The eye of Haiyan (called Yolanda in the Philippines) was clear as a bell, an ominous sign. We learned that three of ChildFund’s local partners’ operating areas were directly in the devastated areas.

On the positive side, for the past several years, we had been preparing for such a disaster, as typhoons occur frequently in the Philippines. All of our local communities had been trained in disaster risk reduction – how to reduce your vulnerability to a natural disaster. In addition, they had all been trained in disaster management, including the international SPHERE standards for emergency response.

Several ChildFund staff prepared to leave for the Philippines immediately, including one vice president, who volunteered to join the team to help support our communications. Once in the Philippines, members of the emergency response team were deployed from Manila with enough supplies to support themselves and their work for a week.

Due to the severity of the storm, the number of people impacted and ChildFund’s extensive experience in the area of the world, we have established the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. In addition to responding to urgent needs of children and families, we are committing to helping with the long term and equally critical recovery period. The ChildFund Alliance has set a goal of raising $10 million, with $4 million for emergency assistance to children now and $6 million for longer term recovery – helping families rebuild their lives. This is the largest disaster response ChildFund has mounted since the 2004 Asian tsunami response.

Children are wandering the decimated streets.

As we continued our meetings in Bangkok, CEOs from around the ChildFund Alliance sprang into action, reaching out to supporters for help. Leaders from ChildFund New Zealand, Australia and other countries would stop me in the hallways to advise that they had just had a commitment for $100,000 or $200,000. In the U.S., ChildFund also launched a major appeal online and began reaching out to donors who sponsored children in the Philippines. The immediate support from around the world was gratifying.

In the days that followed, we learned that our community training had paid off – all of the children enrolled in ChildFund programs and our staff were accounted for! Although many lost their homes and their livelihoods, they were alive. I also learned that ChildFund was acknowledged by UNICEF as the first NGO to get a Child-Centered Space (a structured and safe place to care for children while their parents are busy restarting their lives) up and running.

ChildFund has set up Child-Centered Spaces as safe havens for children.

We still have a long way to attain our $10 million goal, but we are committed to supporting children and families in the Philippines. If you want to help, please donate to our Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. Thank you!

Sharing the latest video update from our national director in the Philippines.

ChildFund, along with our partners in the ChildFund Alliance, has launched an appeal for $10 million for immediate relief and long-term recovery for children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

We have identified three priority areas for our emergency response efforts: Ormoc City and Roxas City, where we have programs and sponsored children, and Tacloban City, a non-program area that is also identified by United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination as among the hardest-hit localities.

Our immediate goals:

  1. Establish Child-Centered Spaces in Ormoc, Roxas and Tacloban – two centers in each city.
  2. Distribute food packs (rice, noodles and canned goods) for 3,000 families.
  3. Distribute non-food items (bath soap, children’s underwear, sanitary supplies, baby diapers and laundry soap) to 3,000 families.

Thank you for your support and donations to help.

ChildFund International is responding to the emergency in the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan has left a path of destruction, with the Visayas suffering the most damage, beginning with Leyte, through the northern tips of Cebu and Iloilo westward. Contact has been reestablished with our local partner organization in Iloilo, but the affected areas in Samar and Leyte remain off the communications grid. Thus, we are still assessing full impact on our program areas.

I wanted to share this video from our country director in the Philippines, Katherine Manik, who describes the needs of children and families in the aftermath of this devastating storm.

Your support for ChildFund Emergency Action Fund is much appreciated. Thank you for your prayers and concern expressed for children and their families.

As we recognize World Day Against Child Labor today, June 12, I wanted to share one example of how ChildFund is working to educate parents and communities about the rights of children and helping children who’ve had to drop out of school find a pathway back to their dreams.

The “Kuriton” [wordplay between the Filipino word kariton for pushcart, and the local Bicolano word kurit, for drawing or writing] mobile classrooms, supported by ChildFund, take art advocacy workshops in visual arts, theater, poetry, storytelling and photography to children in the remote villages of Bicol, the Philippines. It’s amazing to see their faces light up.

The “Kuriton” [wordplay between the Filipino word kariton for pushcart, and the local Bicolano word kurit, for drawing or writing] mobile classrooms, supported by ChildFund, take art advocacy workshops in visual arts, theater, poetry, storytelling and photography to children in the remote villages of Bicol, the Philippines. It’s amazing to see their faces light up.