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Typhoon Haiyan: Child Friendly Spaces

Beth Allen and children among the rubble of a destroyed community.

Where do children play after their community is demolished?

Many children venture out among the rubble, looking for something to do. Schools are closed. Homes are make-shift shelters. They face physical dangers and can be vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.

Food for the Hungry (FH ) is creating Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) in the Philippines, which are places for Filipino children to play and learn in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. These safe locations keep predators away from vulnerable kids. A Child Friendly Space tent says, “Keep out. These kids have protectors.”

Adults, running the CFS, know children’s names and keep track of when they attend programs. If a child doesn’t show up for a number of days, somebody will go looking for that child.

Those running the Child Friendly Spaces are trained to assess each child who participates, and to flag families who need professional help from a counselor or social worker, such as “Anna’s” family. I’m calling her “Anna” instead of using her real name, because her family is facing a crucial and vulnerable time.

Decisions, Decisions

Anna lives in a one-room home with her family. Her mom, “Thelma” is a thin and nervous woman in a gray polo shirt. Her eyes are dull brown. She’s weary and burdened by the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan.

Thelma’s husband makes his living buying and re-selling crabs from local fishermen. That business is wiped out now. So Thelma says, she’s thinking of leaving her husband and four children behind, to work as a domestic in Manila. Her reasoning is that if she works as a maid, she won’t have to pay rent in Manila, because she’ll live with her employers. If her husband went to work in Manila, he would have to pay for lodging.

The  money can be sent home to help her family survive.

Anna, age 16, would bear most of the burden for running the household with her mom gone. Anna is quiet and shy.

Through CFS flagging, my Filipino FH colleagues, Eva and Pastor Orlando, are at Anna’s home to help her family find safe alternatives. They train people to be aware of the dangers, and to spot children who are vulnerable to abuse and sex trafficking.

Eva trains mothers and children in FH programs in metro Manila. Pastor Orlando trains pastors and others on the northern part of the island where the typhoon hit. Orlando works with a team to investigate child abuse allegations in his home city.

With the proposed situation of Thelma working in Manila, Thelma’s husband would probably leave the home for most of the day. With both parents gone, the children would be unsupervised. In this chaotic environment, they could be victims to sex trafficking or other bad influences.

Considering the Options

Eva talks with Thelma and encourages her to re-evaluate her options.  It’s not worth the money you think you’ll save in rent, if you go to Manila instead of your husband, Eva says. The cost to your children could be very high and long-lasting.

At the end of the day, we all prayed for the family. We hope our conversations made Thelma think. We pray Anna felt that God cared about her.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, families need food, shelter and water. They also need emotional support. FH needs your help to start and run Child Friendly Spaces. Your gift will help girls like Anna have a future and save families from a world of heartache.