Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tragic Tales of Typhoon Haiyan as Maritime World Supports Those Who Have Lost Everything

Five Years On Charity Reveals the Aftermath of a Disaster That Cost 6,000 lives
Shipping News Feature
PHILIPPINES – We often write of the laudable efforts made by companies and individuals within logistics and the global supply chain to mitigate the damage caused by a variety of hardships including natural disasters. Now, five years on from Typhoon Haiyan, the deadly cyclone that claimed more than 6,000 lives, the Sailors' Society has been talking to, and about, the children injured, both physically and mentally, and often left destitute or orphaned by the disaster.

The Sailors’ Society responded to the disaster by raising £225,000 through an emergency appeal and has been helping communities in the Philippines rebuild ever since. The charity has rebuilt 48 homes, four medical centres and three classrooms, which also double as emergency shelters in case of a further assault from nature.

In the immediate aftermath of the typhoon, the charity sent trained chaplains to offer practical and emotional support. It has also set up a Crisis Response Network to help those affected by trauma. Eleven-year-old Marylourds Lim was just six when the typhoon hit. Along with her sister and grandfather, she climbed a mountain to seek sanctuary from the floods and, although her physical injuries have healed the mental trauma she suffered has taken years to come to terms with and every time rain fell, her anxieties resurfaced. She says:

“I got so many wounds and my foot was pierced by a nail, a lot of blood was coming out. I was so afraid, I asked if I was going to die. The rain was so strong and I was almost hit by lightning. I kept thinking about it [afterwards] I kept dreaming a dog was chasing me. I felt that there was another typhoon coming.”

During the floods, ten feet of water entered Juliana Cabibihan’s family home 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. Eleven year old Juliana recalled that terrible day, saying:

“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, we thought we were going to die.”

The two girls 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 visited the Philippines and spent a lot of time speaking to the children in the schools. It brought the realisation that many of the kids were deeply traumatised by what had happened and that they were still afraid. The club is run by the charity’s family outreach officer, Iris Picardal who also survived the disaster. She commented:

“I didn’t have any injuries and our house wasn’t destroyed, but I had trauma. 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. The best thing we can do is to be ready when the next disaster comes.”

Living in a disaster prone area, Iris and the others know the risks and that the chances of another typhoon striking are high. The Sailors’ Society has developed a programme to help rebuild the children’s confidence and give them disaster risk reduction training which Marylourds says helps, and she is no longer afraid as she has been taught what to do before and after a typhoon. Sandra Welch 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. 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.”

The effect which such help, so often freely given by those in the maritime world, can have in a tragic situation such as this, is best summed up by the words of Annielor Malooy, a teacher at the 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. She explains:

“At first there were very few children. They weren’t interested in lessons, we just spoke about what happened. Some of my pupils died. [Those that were left] 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.”

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

“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. 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.”

Photo: A vessel blown ashore after the typhoon with (inset) Julianna Cabibihan and Marylourds Lim at the Seafarer’s Pupils Club.