Philippines: starting life in an evacuation centre
I came into the office last week to good news from Emergency Programme Coordinator, Grace. The pregnant woman she and the Save the Children team had helped get to hospital from the evacuation centre had given birth to a healthy baby boy.
The baby was born a month premature so both mother and baby are being kept in hospital for a couple of weeks where there’s an incubator to make sure they’re well enough to leave.
For the newborn baby, it’s likely that life ‘at home’ will start in an evacuation centre with hundreds of other families.
Over the past week I’ve visited a number of these evacuation centres, which are ‘home’ for over 170,000 people as floodwaters remain in many provinces in the Philippines.
Living in a school
Nereo Joaquin National High School in Laguna province became home to 800 people overnight.
The school has been divided in half, with classes continuing in whatever space is possible, including makeshift desks in corridors outside classrooms.
Walking around the evacuation centre, my eye was caught by a tiny baby asleep on a pile of clothes in one of the classrooms.
She’s called Marie Cris and is one month old. She was born just a week before the floods destroyed most of her family’s home and forced them to evacuate.
Now, she’s living in a classroom with 24 other families, 99 people and there’s only one toilet between all of them.
Nine months pregnant
In a classroom one floor up, I met Rowena who is nine months pregnant and due to give birth to her sixth child.
Rowena told me, “I’ll come back here with the baby because it is still very dirty and muddy at home.
“It’s better to stay here because my house is near the river and there are lots of bacteria that might affect the baby.”
However cramped and unsanitary the evacuation centres are, they’re still better than the areas people have left, many of which remain underwater.
Providing for newborns
Save the Children is helping by providing newborn kits which include nappies, clothes, baby wash and powder, baby mittens and a hat.
We’re also running sessions for pregnant and lactating mothers on proper breastfeeding, child care and hygiene practices.
In a neighbouring district, I visited the Old Municipal Building, which is being used as an evacuation centre, and I heard that three newborn babies have been born here since the floods.
Baby Mark was born just one day before the floods and was sleeping in his grandmother’s arms, wearing mittens to keep his hands warm when I arrived.
Home for him at the moment is a small section of floor in a corridor in the building where his family have marked out a small space with the boxes of belongings they were able to bring from their home.
For many of these tiny babies, along with hundreds of thousands of children and adults, these evacuation centres are likely to remain home for the coming months.
And I’m told it’s likely that not only will they spend their first few weeks here, but also their first Christmas.
If you would like to support our work in emergencies, please donate to Save the Children’s Emergency Fund, which allows us to respond quickly when disaster strikes.