one month on in Mindanao

As you make your way past Tagum City—a town about an hour north of Davao City in Mindanao, and the place where Save the Children has decided to base its Bopha/Pablo typhoon response operations—the destruction slowly increases with each kilometre you travel.  Up through the Compostela Valley there are pockets of destruction—in some areas almost no structure has a roof and many wood and bamboo structures have been completely destroyed; other areas are relatively untouched.  

This paled in comparison to the almost total devastation of the coastal areas of Boston, Cateel and Baganga in Davao Oriental Province.  The once lush, green forested areas that back the beautiful coastline are now almost completely barren—coconut trees lie as they fell like giant sticks littering the sides of the hills.

In Baganga Municipality, where Typhoon Bopha/Pablo made landfall, the destruction is all encompassing and extensive.  Local authorities there have registered 156 deaths from the Typhoon with 85 people still missing.  Authorities were quick to point out, however, that this figure could potentially go up as it has been hard to access many of the far flung barangays or villages.  Like in other Municipalities, local child protection councils had been formed before the typhoon, but most are not very functional and given the scale of the destruction and the focus on meeting the basic survival needs of people, child protection has not been a key focus of relief operations.  I had made the appeal two days earlier at an OCHA led workshop on Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) revisions that it was time that we considered child protection as a lifesaving sector. This is one of Save the Children’s key advocacy messages and in line with the newly launched Child Protection in Emergency Minimum Standards.


In Baganga, I was told by a Municipality worker that roughly 25% of children were out of school before the typhoon.  “These children were primarily engaged in coconut harvesting and fishing work,” she said.  “Now that the coconut trees have been destroyed, we worry that even more teenagers will not return to school and will migrate to other areas to look for work and other opportunities. They will be extremely vulnerable.”

10 bunkhouses—ten families can be housed in one bunkhouse—are planned and/or are already partially completed for the Municipality, yet we heard concerns from locals that these shelters offered little in the way of privacy for women and children.  “There were some cases of sexual and gender based violence against women before the Typhoon,” a Municipality authority stated, “so we are concerned about the safety of women and girls.  Shelter is a pressing need, but more inputs are needed from women, girls and children before construction of these bunkhouses.”

Children in all three Municipalities that I spoke with, while in many ways displaying a great sense of resiliency, appeared in many ways to be having difficulty processing the aftermath of the emergency.  Universally, all children I spoke with said that when it stormed, or was windy or rained that it made them feel scared.  Adults and parents corroborated this.  Adults also commented that while children continue to find some time playing with friends, they rarely talked and that their play was somehow lethargic and emotionless.  Many children I spoke with were scared that they might not be able to return to school (despite plans for schools to reopen soon) or that they might not be able to ever meet friends that had left the area. Others feared that their families’ loss of livelihoods options might mean they would have to drop out of school and migrate with their family in search of work and income.


In Baganga, Municipality authorities commented that while parents in the area were generally well meaning they lacked extensive knowledge of positive caregiving for their children—this worried her in that as the recovery period wore on, adults may become more stressed and frustrated themselves and might “take out” these frustrations on their children.  “Parents here need information on how to care for their children better both after an emergency and in normal circumstances,” she said.

In order to address this, Save the Children has established and/or is in the process of establishing Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) as a safe space for children to come together and take part in structured activities which helps them gain a greater sense of normalcy and builds on innate resiliency.  Moreover, the CFS gives parents/adults time to begin to rebuild their own lives while not having to worry about the safety and care of their children.  The CFS is an environment in which parents can also receive positive caregiving and parenting inputs from Save the Children and partner organisations trained in positive discipline and caregiving.  10 CFS’ are planned for Compostela Valley and 5 for Cateel with plans afoot to raise additional funding for psychosocial and other child protection programming in additional communities in Davao Oriental.  In each community, Save the Children will help to organise and establish a Child Protection Committee or Group, which can help with monitoring protection issues and can link their efforts with Municipality and other authorities.


Children caught up in crisis events need information. They need to know what has happened and why, in order to rebuild understandings about the world and themselves. Save the Children encourages caregivers to talk to children about what has happened and stands committed to work with parents, partners, duty bearers and children themselves on ensuring the protection of all children—it is a lifesaving matter. 


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