February Fun

One of the first houses I mudded out from beginning to end was filled with liquid mud. The basement bedrooms usually got flooded in rainstorms and this one was no exception. In fact, the whole neighborhood received about a meter of mud and so the basement rooms were overwhelmed with slushy mud. The house took a couple of days to mud out, but eventually we cleared it so that a woman and her two kids could move back in. All of their belongings, such as clothing, toys and furniture, were destroyed by the mud and mold. It saddened me that we cleared out this space for her to move back in, but in a few months it would probably flood again. This woman cannot afford to live in another home, but because she lives in the basement of a home right next to the river she must endure constant floods whenever it rains. I learned that her neighbor was sick of all the flooding and so instead of clearing out the mud he has decided to cement it over and raise the floor level. Good idea… if you can afford it.
If the data were available (socio-economic status, coordinates of homes and flood path), this would make a very interesting study on population injustices through housing location. Similar studies have been done with proximity to airport (noise pollution), rail-lines, nuclear waste plants, etc.
Back to the Philippines: the unique thing about tropical storm Sendong was that in actuality there was not that much rain. However, the river flooded so dramatically due to the increased amount of junk, such as trash and debris that had clogged up the river, and the lack of banking, which has been caused by logging, informal settlements and agriculture, among other things. If this storm had occurred ten years ago the flooding would probably not have taken place because the river had been running much more deeply. The banks and trees would have caught most of the water surge.
In the month of February we mainly mudded out homes. It may seem that the range of jobs is quite limited with mainly demudding, but these jobs are quite diverse in their activities. There are various types of mud and different ways to clean the house. Some “mud” sites actually involve mucking, gutting, deconstruction (removing ceiling and wall panels), and sanitation (which is a more thorough clean—usually with squeegees and brushes). I usually am on jobs that involve lots of mud, shovel work and wheel barrowing.
We are now trying to partner with CRS (Catholic Relief Services) to also deconstruct damaged homes. It is important that we deconstruct some homes because then families can move back to their land and set up tents or rebuild their homes. Families that cannot live in their homes currently usually have been staying in emergency shelters or with other family members or friends. They are anxious to move back home, especially if they are living in the emergency shelters.
From my experience working with All Hands in Haiti and here, it seems like this organization fills a unique niche to each disaster they respond. They are quite good at figuring out what is needed by the victims, local populations and other organizations involved and then working towards remedying or filling in the holes. They are a small organization that is able to provide man power, but they are quite limited by funding.
All Hands provide labor and volunteers where there is a demand. For this project, volunteers go into affected neighborhoods and hand out contact information to give to victims who do not have the resources or time to get rid of the massive amounts of mud and debris in their homes, as well as for those who do not have the skill or ability to take down their homes. All Hands is only one part of the recovery process. A lot of work has been accomplished even before All Hands gets to a disaster and a lot more work needs to be done after All Hands leaves a disaster.
More recently, I have been quite busy working on volunteer coordination and job assessments for mud sites. Most of the severely impacted mud sites have all been cleaned up, but we are still finding a few homes that have mud left in some rooms or need demolition.
Shelter box is an organization that sends field workers and boxes filled with necessities, such as tents, cooking supplies, and other important tools, after disasters. All Hands initially helped set up some of the tent communities with ShelterBox in the beginning of the project. At first the areas that they set up the tents were barren lands dotted with compactly placed tents, but now they are thriving communities. There are trenches and bridges to help with overflow when it rains, side stores to provide delicious snacks and goodies, and huts for community spaces, such as meetings.
The tent city is colorful with different mom-and-pop shops or specialty stands dotting the sidewalks and corners. Over the course of the weeks I have been here I have seen a noticeable change in the infrastructure of the community. Shops are getting spruced up and painted (mainly with Coke-a-Cola advertisement).
For the kids in the tent city, the flooding not only affected their home, personal possessions, but it also changed their community and school. Most of these kids are going to different schools.
Children who experience traumatic events, such as the flooding, before they are 11 years old are almost three times more likely to develop psychological symptoms (NCTSN). All Hands started a Saturday play day for the children in the tent communities. The program lasts for around four hours on Saturday morning. It is pretty exhausting and about after half an hour I am pretty worn out.
It is difficult for me to accurately judge the stability and level of distress that these children endured during and after the flooding, but all the kids seem so vivacious and happy. All of them are excited to draw with markers or crayons or to run around chasing each other or a soccer ball. It is important for children that have experienced trauma, like the drowning of family members, to create a way for them to express their feelings and tell their story. Writing, drawing and play are effective mediums for children to process trauma.
I have learned classic Filipino games from some of the kids, such as different versions of red-light-green-light or rock hopscotch, while they have learned classic camp games, like Spud.
Just the freedom to play and be children is important. Besides play, re-establishing order and routine is also helpful in creating a sense of security for children. Having a weekly Saturday meet up provides weekly structure. These kids have lost friends, family members, most of their belongings, and their usual activities. They have been relocated to a new setting and community. The kids program is meant to get them out and socializing with other kids in the tent city, as well as allow them to forget their living situation for a few hours in the week. Therefore, play days give them opportunity to meet other kids in the tent community, as well as develop effective coping strategies through play.


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