Children gather around Tess. Fun and games help children recover from the effects of Tyhoon Bopha in eastern Mindanao. Credit: OCHA/R. Maingi
‘When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life a thousand reasons to smile.’ That’s the motto 25-year-old Marietes Dayaguit lives by after she was forced from her home when Tropical Storm Washi swept through Mindanao in 2011 causing massive flooding and destruction.
Tes, as she is usually known, is now a volunteer with a group of non-governmental organizations called Balay Mindanaw
. She has dedicated herself to bringing smiles and a sense of hope to children affected by Typhoon Bopha
, another major disaster that hit Mindanao, southern Philippines, just a year later. The typhoon affected 6.2 million people, nearly half of them children.
Thousands of families were displaced by Washi and Bopha, losing all their belongings and access to even the most basic necessities. Tes and her family had to live in a tented community for nearly a year.
“I was not sure where to start, but since I am alive, I told myself that I can try again,” she said.
A team from OCHA met Tes in Davao Oriental, one of the worst-hit areas, where she was helping children cope through songs, dance and games. “These activities are therapeutic to children. They need to be able to talk about what they saw and we need to reassure them,” Tes added.
During emergencies and disasters, children become more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, neglect and violence, says UNICEF. When family members lose jobs and have little to live on, children may be forced to help augment the family income, often neglecting their education.
Aid organizations have set up over 90 temporary learning spaces for children in Mindanao to help them continue their schooling and develop a sense of normality. Thousands of back-to-school and teachers-learning kits containing books, guides and school packs have been distributed. At least 2,500 school children and over 900 teachers have benefited from psychosocial support which has helped them to overcome their difficult experiences.
“One effective way of consoling someone is to share an experience similar to theirs,” said Jasmin Bong, who introduced Tes to the NGO Balay Mindanaw. Jasmin believed Tes could use her own experience of loss and grief after Typhoon Washi to help the children affected by Bopha.
“I realize now that my life is about giving back and helping children focus on the life ahead of them,” added Tes. She wants to continue volunteering in churches, schools and anywhere she can help another member of the community cope with the crisis.
Reporting by Rita Maingi/ OCHA Philippines