Tuesday, November 26, 2013

After Typhoon Haiyan: Learning to play again

Post by: Beverly Bicaldo, Early Childhood Care and Development Specialist, Plan International Philippines.
Beverly oversees most of the operations and activities relating to early childhood care and development. She shares her experience working with technical officers in the field after Typhoon Haiyan.

In a disaster situation, it’s essential to think outside of the box - especially when responding to the needs of children.

Children take part in fun activity
at a child friendly space in Tolosa, Leyte
When Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines, it took with it people’s homes, livelihoods and everything that was familiar to them. With nowhere to go, families and children had to take shelter in evacuation centers and the only home comforts they had were their rain-sodden shoes and the clothes they’d been wearing that day.

For children, their school books and toys were all but gone. While food, shelter, water and sanitation, are paramount to the recovery of the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – so is a child’s right to learn and to play.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, children were faced with a harrowing reality – some were separated from their parents, dead bodies were seen strewn across the street, buildings had been torn apart and the roads were in ruins.

Faced with this devastating scene, children were quickly robbed of their innocent outlook on life. As Plan’s early childhood care and development specialist in Leyte, I was keen to provide children with the opportunity to learn and to play and to give them some sense of normality. Children have routines and their routines consist of being with other children in structured learning environments.

However, after a disaster such as Typhoon Haiyan, this everyday routine is disrupted, heavily impacting the children. Providing opportunities for children to play and interact with other children in a structured way, is a way for children to release and divert their minds from the scenes they’ve witnessed.

Play is a paramount part of the life of the child. Not only is it their right, it’s in their nature to explore the things around them. When they do not have that opportunity, the tendency is to go over what they have seen or experienced, but by giving them opportunities to play, we are giving them opportunities to focus their minds on something else.

That’s why my team and I set about developing interactive learning materials, visual aids and toys from whatever we could find – in some instances this included adapting what we already had. For example, in Plan Philippines, they call their emergency Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) kit the “big blue bag” –here in Leyte, we found a black and white bag and called it the big zebra bag.

Of course, you will have read how difficult it has been for aid to reach us here in Leyte, but we weren’t going to let that deter us. That’s why my team and I decided to make toys from simple materials so that they could be distributed with the aid when it arrived. For us, the toys and learning tools didn’t have be expensive, nor purchased, we just had to think outside the box and use whatever we could get our hands on. We sourced materials that had could be recycled and safely used for toys. The materials included old water bottles, cartons, old magazines and natural materials such as wood.

It showed that children do not need to be dependent on ready-made toys, as long as the learning and educative components are included. It also showed that early childhood education could resume even under the circumstances when there were no materials to use. The tools we created are fun, simple and educational and we hope they will provide the children of the Leyte with an opportunity to learn and to play – and provide a glimmer of light and hope for the future.

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