Haiyan’s hidden damage: Filipino children suffer emotional scars

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But a few miles north of Tolosa, in the town of Tanauan, rescue workers were making some effort to ease these emotional stresses.

Dee Stahil is a Rescuenet worker in Tanauan who plays with displaced children using teddy bears, stickers and bottles of bubbles.

“The children often fall through the cracks,” she said. “So we go around and see what the emotional, immediate needs of the children are, and [try to bring] some joy and something for them which takes them away from the disaster for a few minutes.

“Even if it is just a hug, playing with them, or blowing bubbles, it can lighten up their world for a few moments and take them somewhere else.”

More than a week and a half after Haiyan — one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall — smashed into the Philippines, workers were still burying the dead in mass graves and starting to clear what remained of ruined cities such as Tacloban.

“These children have been through a very traumatic experience,” Dr. Julie Hall, the World Health Organization’s representative to the Philippines, said. “In a matter of hours they have lost everything that they knew to be part of their lives.

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“Some of them may well have lost their parents; many of them will have lost friends or relatives.”

Aside from tackling the huge health issues faced by these children, Hall said it was crucial to set up safe play areas for their mental well-being.

“The sooner children get back into school, the better it is for them,” she said. “They will have a safe place to be, but they will be back to something that is a little indication of the normal life they had before.

“And children want to learn, they want to play, they want to be with each other. So creating these spaces, in the beginning to play, and then over time to be education spaces as well, is very important.”


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