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Volunteers Help the Children Who Lived Through Typhoon Yolanda Heal Through Play

Volunteers Help the Children Who Lived Through Typhoon Yolanda Heal Through Play

Written by Janela Buhain Carrera

Guam News - Guam NewsGuam -

Children are some of the most vulnerable victims of any disaster. During a visit to Camp Villamor Airbase in Manila, Philippines, we got a first-hand look at how one group of volunteers made up of mostly mothers is helping children heal from Supertyphoon Yolanda through their universal language of play.

There isn’t a single child who walks out of Oplan Salubong’s children’s activity center without a smile on their face and a toy in tow. And that’s exactly the goal behind this booth, one of many booths located inside the evacuation camp at Villamor Airbase. Villamor is one of several evacuation centers for survivors who are flown in from Samar or Tacloban, two towns that took the brunt of Supertyphoon Yolanda.

"Our goal is to have them play and shop. Play and shop so they take home the toys. So we build ... we try to build hope," explains Attorney Bernadette Carrasco, Lead Volunteer.Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site.

Carrasco is a mother herself. She and a group of volunteers built this makeshift activity center in hopes that children taken to Villamor can begin their healing process. She tells me that it’s not an easy task, most of the children who come in are frightened, suffering, some still grieving.

"Me personally, I have yesterday, I have an 11-year-old who was crying and she keeps on calling her mommy, I was so afraid to ask where your mommy is because I was thinking maybe she lost her mother. But her mother eventually came. While she was crying we pretended I was her mommy," she recalls.

Some children, says Carrasco, appear to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress."

[Another volunteer] was attending to a three-year-old. It started to rain, actually it was only sprinkling. The little girl started to run away, crying. That’s how traumatized she was," she tells me.

The one rule this activity center strictly adheres to, Carrasco adds, is that "we don’t talk about what happened during the typhoon."Children are different, she observes.

At the evacuation center, every family or individual rescued is de-briefed. They are assessed by the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development and based on their needs are sent to different parts of the camp. But Carrasco says it’s difficult to de-brief a suffering child.Instead, she says, at the activity center the volunteers communicate through the one universal language of children: play.

"So you cannot really debrief the children by talking to them. So their main language is play. So ever since the disaster happened, for sure they have not played and they also lost everything, not just their parents, but these children, they lost all their toys also. They have not brought anything from Tacloban or Samar. So our idea was play to de-stress, shop to replace so that when they get out of this booth, hope starts. To them, everything is back to normal. Children are simple. I don’t think they would be reminded of their suffering after playing," she says, smiling.

While their painful experiences are not spoken about at the center, Carrasco tells us what has helped some children cope is art, no matter how morbidly they’re expressed.

"We don’t talk to them about it. We just get some feedback from drawings. We get drawinsg like ... it’s very chaotic it’s like they draw the whole disaster itself. There are flying trees, and they draw messy lines," she says. "There are drawings of homes with roofs before; after, no more roofs. There's 'We love Tacloban. Poor Tacloban, God bless Tacloban.'"

Carrasco adds: "You can see the faces, just in their eyes, you can see they’re scared. But when they leave, they’re smiling. So that’s the very idea of the play center."

Carrasco is encouraging anyone in Manila to donate their time and volunteer at Camp Villamor. She also says donations are still being accepted.

Her organization will be there until December 15, but she notes that as long as C130 aircraft are airlifting evacuees to Camp Villamor, they will continue to stay and work with children.

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