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After Typhoon Haiyan: Giving children a safe place to play

“These children really love to sing: it makes them smile” says Hanna, a 16-year-old volunteer at a Child Friendly Space (CFS) in Mayorga, on the island of Leyte, which was badly hit by Typhoon Haiyan one month ago.

“A lot of their houses were destroyed: it has been a very upsetting time for them, but here they get the chance to play games like volleyball, to sing and to just be with other children.”

The children belt out a hearty rendition of Jingle Bells for their visitors while one of the staff who run the CFS accompanies them on the harmonica. Some of us try to match them with a somewhat less assured version of Away in a Manger, but despite a generous round of applause from the amused children, we are altogether less easy on the ear.

Beginning to rebuild

Using basic materials such as  bamboo and tarpaulins, the community in Mayorga built the CFS themselves, and it has proved invaluable as it allows children to play together in a safe place while their parents attempt to  rebuild their lives.

The CFS has a veritable treasure trove of a toybox, including board games, skipping ropes, volleyballs and footballs, which have proved incredibly popular: the football has been punted around with such enthusiasm that the stitching has started to come loose. It is clear that the frightening power of the 173mph typhoon winds ripping through their community is still fresh in many of the children’s minds, but being looked after by our volunteers, all of whom are incredibly dedicated, and getting a chance to be around other children is helping them cope with and assimilate their experiences.

Hanna is brilliant with the children, encouraging them to break into song and leading the way whenever they forget the words. She does a marvelous job, but feels privileged to be able to help in her time off before she returns to college in January. “I have experience of teaching children, so Save the Children trained me up to be able to volunteer in this Child Friendly Space. I come here every day and I really enjoy it. It’s just good to be able to do something to help.”

Providing more safe spaces for children

Save the Children has already set up more than 25 CFSs on the island of Leyte, reaching more than 2,000 children and training 75 volunteers like Hanna to look after them and run the sessions. Ten more will soon be set up in Ormoc, to the east of the island. It’s a simple yet powerful way to give children who have been through a hugely distressing experience a much-needed opportunity to express themselves and to remember how to play with the carefree abandon that every child should have.

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