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Philippines: Helping children cope after the typhoon
“My children were so scared. Since the typhoon, my four-year-old son is not doing well.”
In the village of Macanip, in the north of Leyte island, Typhoon Haiyan destroyed four in five buildings and reduced the local health post to a pile of crushed concrete.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams have been running mobile clinics to provide healthcare for the 2,500 villagers, including psychological support to help children recover from the traumatic event. One of them is 26-year-old Bernadina Barraza.
“I have three young children,” says Bernadina. “My husband works in another town, so during the day I'm alone with the children. The smallest – my daughter Marie Jersel – has just turned five months.
"She is suffering from diarrhoea, so I came to the mobile clinic to get her examined by the doctor and get some medicine. My son has a fever and an itching skin rash, so I brought him too.”
Macanip’s former health post is a pile of rubble, putting an end to the midwife’s daily visits and leaving the villagers without healthcare or medicines.
Pregnant women and people who are sick are forced to travel to the district health centre in the town of Jaro, which was damaged by the typhoon but is still functioning, although it is crowded with patients from across the region.
When the typhoon hit Macanip, Bernardina took her children to the village school, where many others were sheltering. “It was loud and very frightening,” says Bernadina.
The village’s two evacuation centres – the school and the church – were amongst the few buildings in the village to stand up to the devastating storm.
Bernadina and her family survived without physical injury, but the children are still suffering the psychological after-effects of the disaster.
“During the day my son, Jerson, is fine: he plays with the other children and has no complaints. But at night he can't sleep. He often wakes up suddenly, as if he is scared of something. I think he’s still traumatised by the typhoon.”
MSF’s mobile clinics provide the villagers with basic healthcare, and also with emotional support. Meliza Daz, a Filipino psychologist, works alongside the medical team. She describes the symptoms of one distressed child.
“This little boy was waking up crying and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours,” says Meliza. “He also started to wet his bed, sometimes three times a night, which is a common reaction after a traumatic event for children of his age, who cannot process what has happened and often show a physical reaction.”
To help him through his distress, Meliza produced paper and crayons. “He is a very shy boy,” says Meliza, “so I gave him paper and crayons and asked him to draw what he was afraid of.
"I let him describe his picture and he said it was a monster and he was afraid it would hurt him. I asked him to draw what he could do to protect himself, and he drew himself with a sword.
"We call this reconstructive play; it helps children to cope with their traumatic event. At the same time it’s important to tell the parents to be supportive, to hug their children when they're afraid and to make them feel safe.”
After the medical consultation and a counselling session, Bernardina collects medicine for her children from the MSF pharmacy and prepares to go home.
“Our house was destroyed, but fortunately we managed to build a little hut from some material we collected in the village,” she says.
“Luckily there is a food distribution once a week, but we haven’t received any other relief goods yet – no plastic sheeting or tents. I don’t know what the future will bring for us. All I want is for us to be able to repair our house and rebuild our lives.”
MSF in the Philippines
More than 600 MSF staff are currently working in the Philippines. In the past month, MSF teams in the Philippines have carried out more than 30,900 outpatient consultations and admitted more than 300 patients to hospital.
More than 2,100 surgical procedures and dressing have been carried out, and more than 28,000 relief kits and 9.100 tents, shelters or reconstruction kits have been distributed or are being distributed.