NOTES FROM THE FIELD - 22 November 2013 - Tacloban, Philippines
A real hero and inspiration
By Kent Page - Senior Communications Advisor - UNICEF
A day of inspiration in the face of the most difficult of challenges.
Over the past few days our UNICEF child protection colleagues have been tracking down some unaccompanied children. Working with the government and partners, the 5 children have been found, referred and are now receiving much needed support.
Theirs is an inspiring story stemming from tragedy. The five children are brothers and sisters … the oldest is an 18-year old boy and the youngest is an 8-year old boy. They are sheltering at an evacuation center that prior to the typhoon was a school. It is now overrun by hundreds of families made homeless by the typhoon.
The five children are staying there, and they stay close. They need to. Both their mother and father perished in the typhoon, along with three of their siblings. The oldest boy has had to take on the responsibility of gathering his surviving siblings, getting them to the evacuation centre and making sure they are safe.
He has not had a second to grieve, to process the amount of loss he and his siblings have experienced or to even sit back and rest for just a few moments. His younger brothers and sister are looking to him for support. And he’s a true hero … Because he’s giving them all the support he can although he is completely exhausted.
When we met them they were in a small classroom that is their temporary home at the school. They sleep on a piece of plywood on the floor, the windows are gone from the typhoon wind … At night it is cold and the mosquitoes come.
There is some mercy as they are sharing the room with their cousin and his family … They have also lost everything but are willing to take the five kids as extended family, but they too have suffered massive setbacks.
The younger sister looks up to her brother and told me what he has been doing for them. Standing in long lines in the rain to get relief goods. Watching over them so they are safe at night. Getting them into the classroom in the first place where at least they have some shelter. Working during the day in the dangerous job of cleaning debris and wreckage from the street. Keeping the small amount of money he makes to buy them food.
When we met him, he was busy preparing food for all five of them … boiling water over a small wooden fire in the classroom and making instant noodles with some rice.
He is a like-able young man, but you can see the grim determination in his face as he takes on all the tasks required to take care of his brothers and sisters. He is a hero and an inspiration and they are now all getting support through unicef and others. It will help, but it can’t replace the loss of both their parents and their 11 and 5 year old sisters and their littlest 3 year old brother.
He tells me that the water “was as high as the coconut trees”, pointing up in the air. That he grabbed hold of one of his younger brothers with one hand and held on the top of a bamboo tree branch with the other at the height of the storm. His sister clung, alone, to the top branches of a jackfruit tree as the water surged more than 100 meters from where their house used to stand.
Neither of them have any idea how the other two younger boys survived the storm, only that they found them sitting in the sand in front of where their home used to be. The only - only - thing that remained is a toilet bowl fixed firmly into a block of concrete. No books, no photos, no plates, no furniture. Nothing.
I’d love to have a happy ending for these kids, but the best I can manage is a hopeful ending. UNICEF has opened a child friendly space at the school where they are staying and the three youngest now have a safe, clean place to play, sing, learn and be with other children. They are registered with the government and other organizations.
And their cousin’s family says they will take them in.
The only surviving sister is 17 and is sad because high school is severely damaged and shut down and she had hoped to graduate this year. She says she is determined to go back to school and graduate. And the young man who has had huge responsibility thrust upon him is doing his very best, every waking moment. He’s a real hero and inspiration.
Hope you will think about them after the media have packed up and moved on as they are already starting to do. And if you’ve sent a donation to UNICEF, thank you and please consider it an investment in this young family that is facing so much and the millions of other children affected by super typhoon Haiyan.
Previous Notes from the Field:
21 November 2013
19 November 2013
18 November 2013
Photo caption: A child displaced by Super Typhoon Haiyan shelters in an evacuation centre, in Tacloban City.
Photo credit: © UNICEF/Jeoffrey Maitem