Jonah here, for the team from Tacloban, one of the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Yolanda. We are writing from the lobby of the Hotel Alejandro, headquarters of what seems like most of the international relief efforts. Since our arrival we’ve met with Save the Children whose staff are very interested to have further conversations regarding possible collaboration and longer term studies in their Child Safe Spaces (CSS). We’ve also gotten a great deal of input and feedback from the World Health Organization about assessing need, tracking data, and working with the local government to get support and deliver our services efficiently. While overwhelming, it is affirming to hear agreement about the need for psychosocial services and familiar to hear the concern about how best to deliver them.
We started our day with a 7am flight from Manila to Tacloban and were struck by the profound wetness of the city as soon as we approached our landing. Blue tarps dot the landscape amongst unimaginable destruction and rubble as far as we could see. We walked through the rain to the bag claim area that was, essentially, just a place where 4 guys were dropping trailers full of our bags off and unloading those trailers by hand into piles for waiting passengers. Many people were traveling with boxes labeled “food,” “medical supplies,” “hygiene...”
We took our bags out through the crowd and past armed soldiers and were met by our two of our hosts from the University of the Philippines, Paolo and Michael. They took us through the town to drop our bags here at the hotel; we grabbed a quick breakfast, and then headed directly to the school where we found about 50 psychology students and teachers waiting for us to arrive.
After moving rows and rows of desks aside, Michelle began with a short introduction and invited the group to open their minds to a new experience. Then we dove directly into a very lively, often hilarious, at times rather intense PLAYshop, ending with a short, grounding visualization. After lunch, we dove into the theory behind the exercises through which we had taken them in the morning.
After the workshop, we walked to a local school called Sacred Heart and met with Sisters there who invited us to give a PLAYshop for their students. We weren’t sure when we could fit it in; eventually, we agreed on the very following morning at 8:00am for almost 200 children.
At the end of the afternoon, we returned to the hotel for a short rest before heading out to a local teashop that serves bubble tea and other refreshments. It was completely flooded during Yolanda and looters had stolen much of what remained of the store; however, the store owners decided the community needed a place they can hang out, a place they can reunite with each other, sit, drink tea, chat, laugh, come together. So despite not having any money left, the owner somehow recruited the help of friends and the family to rebuild this tiny teashop and now the store has a grand opening sign proudly on display. It is one of the few businesses here that has re-opened. This place, called InfiniTEA, is basically where everyone goes because it has electricity, running water, and most of all, community. After school, people gather here and socialize. Some talk about their experiences during the typhoon, some avoid talking about it completely.
When we were there there was so much laughter coming from a group of high school kids! Frances, the teacher who invited us to the shop quietly told me, "You hear those teenagers laughing? I saw all of them the day of the storm. They were hanging from rooftops and trying not to drown. One of them got hit by a car door that was flying in the air, had to get reconstructive surgery."
Right before we all were going to pass out from exhaustion, we managed to return to the hotel and debrief from the long day before we collapsed.