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Children reveal the trauma of surviving Typhoon Haiyan

Five years on from deadly cyclone that claimed more than 6,000 lives, children reveal the trauma of surviving Typhoon Haiyan

Five years ago on 8 November, Typhoon Haiyan - one of the destructive tropical cyclones ever recorded - hit Southeast Asia, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving an estimated $2.8 billion worth of damage.

Eleven-year-old Marylourds Lim still bears the scars Haiyan left.

“I got so many wounds and my foot was pierced by a nail, a lot of blood was coming out,” she said.

Marylourds was six when the typhoon hit. Along with her sister and grandfather, she climbed a mountain to seek sanctuary from the floods.

She said, “I was so afraid, I asked if I was going to die. The rain was so strong and I was almost hit by lightning.”

Eventually, Marylourds’s physical injuries healed, but the mental trauma she suffered took years to come to terms with and every time rain fell, her anxieties resurfaced.

“I kept thinking about it. I kept dreaming a dog was chasing me. I felt that there was another typhoon coming,” Marylourds said.

Julianna Cabibihan, 11, has also struggled to deal with what happened.

“I heard the sounds of the wind and people shouting for help. The wind was so strong and the rain was so painful when it hit my skin,” she said.

During the floods, ten feet of water entered Juliana’s house and the wind blew the building’s roof off. The family spent three hours clinging to what was left of the roof, waiting for the waters to subside.

Unable to swim, Julianna was terrified she might end up washed away.

Julianna said, “We thought we were going to die.”

Marylourds and Julianna attend a Seafarers’ Pupils’ Club at Dr AP Banez Memorial Elementary School in Tacloban, set up by international maritime charity Sailors’ Society to provide support for children affected by the disaster.

The charity’s deputy CEO and director of programme Sandra Welch said, “After the disaster I visited the Philippines and spent a lot of time speaking to the children in the schools. I realised as I spoke to them that many of them were traumatised by what had happened and that they were still afraid.”

The club is run by the charity’s family outreach officer, Iris Picardal.

Like the girls, Iris survived Haiyan’s destruction.

“I didn’t have any injuries and our house wasn’t destroyed, but I had trauma,” she said.

As the winds ceased, the true toll of the typhoon became obvious.

Iris said, “People were telling us there were many bodies in the streets. I knew that I couldn’t bear to see the lost, but you could smell the dead bodies.”

Living in a disaster prone area, Iris knows the chances of another typhoon striking are high.

“The best thing we can do is to be ready when the next disaster comes,” she said.

Sailors’ Society has developed a programme to help rebuild the children’s confidence and give them disaster risk reduction training.

Sandra said, “The main role of the club is to teach the children about disaster resilience, and give them confidence to work through the trauma that they’ve experienced.”

Marylourds said, “We were taught how to prepare before and after the typhoon, what we should do. I’m not afraid anymore.”

Annielor Malooy has been teaching at Dr AP Banez Memorial Elementary School for more than 25 years. Haiyan was the worst typhoon she’s experienced in her 60 years.

She lost all her possessions in the devastation and had to borrow food from neighbours to survive.

Alongside getting her family’s life back on track, she was faced with the dilemma of how best to support her pupils.

“At first there were very few children. They weren’t interested in lessons, we just spoke about what happened,” she said.

Many of her pupils had lost members loved ones, while others transferred to different schools.

“Some of my pupils died,” she said.

The pupils were deeply traumatised by the events.

“They would just stare blankly at me, even when I encouraged them to take part, they couldn’t.

“I just left them until they asked for me.”

When the children did turn to Annielor, the stories she heard were harrowing.

“They were telling me ‘my mother died’, ‘my father died’, ‘we don’t have any food’ - I gave them my love but that’s not enough when someone has lost everything.

“I had to be strong, for my pupils.”

The school focused on the children’s emotional well-being rather than academic lessons.

They played games, told stories, drew and sang.

Gradually, the pupils began to come to terms with their ordeal.

Annielor said, “Sailors’ Society came in at a time when our school really needed their support.

“They would take the children swimming or to the park, activities that would help them forget about the experiences they suffered, if only for a few hours. Little-by-little, it really helped the children.”

“As a mother, as a wife, I have realised many things. Life is more important than anything else. We can buy material things, you can’t buy back a life.”

Sandra said, “Rebuilding physical structures like houses, medical centres and schools takes a certain amount of time, but rebuilding lives - especially those of children so badly traumatised like Julianna and Marylourds - can take far longer and we’ve got to help these children and families rebuild their lives.

“Five years down the line, we’re still helping people dealing with the trauma of a disaster. Sailors’ Society does not forget those affected, we’re about transforming lives and staying with them when it’s really tough.

“We will continue to work with those communities and support them because typhoons aren’t going to go away.”


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