Hope in the Philippines with Save the Children

We all know by now the horrific stories from the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. We’ve seen the images on tv, online and in print, but my new friends at Save the Children Canada were actually there, on the ground, and their President and CEO for Canada, Patricia Erb, generously agreed to share her first-hand experiences with me and the positives arising from the negative.

1. We hear on the news about the devastation and destruction and displacement of citizens after Typhoon Haiyan, but being that you were actually there, can you describe it in your own words?

A: I have been in international development for more than 26 years, yet I was shocked by the scope of the destruction in the Philippines. We had the opportunity to travel to Tacloban and Dulag, both severely affected areas in the province of Leyte. I had seen the photos and videos of the debris and damage. However, a picture cannot depict the destruction. In many areas the pile of debris was higher than the houses, structures were missing roofs, walls, or gone completely. We saw boats many kilometers in from the waterline and cars that stood vertical on their front end.

The Filipino government has reported that 1,139,731 houses were damaged, of which 550,904 were completely destroyed, which is nearly four times the destruction than during the earthquake in Haiti. We visited a city school in Tacloban that was being used as an evacuation centre. The classrooms are now being used as homes for many families, crowding 10 or more adults into small rooms with numerous children. There were many children running around trying to play, but this type of living condition is not conducive to children being children. It is terribly sad.   Save the Children

2. Obviously there are several groups on the ground now all helping in various ways, what did your crew decide was priority one and the focal point for your time there?

A: Save the Children has had a permanent presence in the Philippines since 1982 and was responding to five other emergencies in the region when the Typhoon hit. Our strong emergency capacity in the Philippines allowed our emergency team to travel to Tacloban the night before the typhoon to support children and their families with immediate emergency response. In the early hours after the storm hit we worked with our partners to provide urgent care needs, including clean water, food, shelter, and sanitary kits. As additional aid agencies were able to travel to the affected areas, Save the Children began to concentrate in more rural areas where teams hadn’t been able to get to previously, such as the rural areas on Leyte and Panay Island.

The teams are now preparing to move into the second phase of emergency response which will focus on child protection, education, shelter, health, nutrition, sanitation, and food security and livelihoods. Save the Children’s teams have developed a three year response plan that is aimed to reach 760,172 people. As of December 13, 2013 we had reached more than 140,000 people. A key element for Save the Children in emergency situations is to set up Child Friendly Spaces in hardest hit areas. These spaces give children somewhere safe to come to receive necessary health, nutrition, and psychosocial support, but they also provides an outlet for play, education, and normalcy – very significant components for children to begin the healing and restructuring process. To-date we have reached over 3,800 children through our 35 Child Friendly Spaces.

3. What was your first impression as you flew in?

A: When flying into Tacloban from Manila the pilot lowered our plane to allow us to see the destruction. I immediately felt shocked. We had been flying over lush and beautiful terrain to come across absolute destruction. The houses were non-existent and the trees littered the ground. One of the main agricultural exports from this area is coconuts, so it is quite worrisome to see the substantial number of trees that were completely uprooted from the ground. The area looked as if it had been cleared out entirely.

The feeling of shock continued as we drove to the Save the Children field office as we passed piles and piles of debris and destroyed homes – I realized that these piles represented people’s homes.

4. Save the Children does a lot of good in a lot of places, what was the most rewarding moment of your time there?

A: The sheer amount of appreciation that we received from other passengers both on the plane from Toronto to Manila and then from Manila to Tacloban was touching. Everyone we met was so warm and thankful for the work Save the Children is doing to help those most affected – knowing the difference that Save the Children and its partner agencies make on people’s lives constantly reinforces this work. Further to this, we had the opportunity to meet with our colleagues in Save the Children’s Manila office. It was rewarding to hear their feelings about the support they have received from Canada. They were appreciative of the Canadian government and the DART team’s response. I was proud to be a Canadian.

 However, the most rewarding moment is always getting to meet and hear the people’s stories. The resilience of the Filipino people was truly remarkable. Those we spoke with had lost everything, yet they were able to share their hopes to rebuild and appreciation for the help they have received. This type of strength is inspirational. Knowing we can help people who are this strong, determined, and hopeful is remarkable.

Save the Children

5. There are always positives among the negatives in any situation. Can you tell me about some of the positives happening in the Philippines because of the help being sent?

A: The emergency response has been handled exceptionally well. All of the agencies and supporting governments are determined to help those affected rebuild their lives, as they see fit. In previous emergency responses responders have attempted to bring in builders, architects, etc. to rebuild the communities. This time we will be working with the communities to help them rebuild themselves. Save the Children’s Field Manager, Sarah Ireland, told us a story about going to a community group and offering them help to clear out the debris from a community area that Save the Children was hoping to use to set up a Child Friendly Space. The group made an agreement and the Save the Children team promised to come back the following day with all the necessary materials, including boots and gloves. The amount of debris was so large that they estimated it would take a few days to clear out, but when they returned to the area the following day it was done. The community wanted to ensure Save the Children had somewhere to set up their response, which they knew would benefit their community, so they worked long and hard hours to clean it out as efficiently as possible. This type of camaraderie and strength speaks to the people in this emergency. Working with the community will help restore normalcy and structure for the victims.

6. What one thing can we do here to make a meaningful impact there and with your organization?

A: Canadians have shown their inherent generosity in supporting the emergency in the Philippines. In addition, the Canadian government has agreed to match Canadian’s donations – doubling their support. Donations are very much appreciated and make a true difference to those impacted by this emergency. The Canadian match will continue until December 23, 2013 and we would urge Canadian’s who are in a position to support this emergency to do so before then. Your support really can make a difference for children and their families.

If you are able to help out, click on over to their website www.SaveThe Children.ca , or even help spread the word. Thank you.

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