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The Philippines: softening the effects of armed conflict

By Joyce Cea, Save the Children in the Philippines

Seven-year-old Eric smiled as he watched Save the Children staff  setting up temporary learning tents in Zambowood elementary school.

The tent for a Save the Children Temporary Learning Space in Zamboanga City, The Philippines
The tent for a Save the Children Temporary Learning Space in Zamboanga City, the Philippines

His family was displaced in the conflict in Zamboanga City – a tussle between government forces and separatists – that started on 9 September. It was the first time they had ever experienced armed conflict. The incident resulted in numerous deaths, houses destroyed, and the displacement of thousands of families. Like Zambowood, Eric’s school has been affected by the trouble and this has meant he is unable return. He should be in grade one.

The route back to normality

Save the Children understands that children need to go back to school as soon as possible if they are to regain a sense of normality. With the support of the Philippines Department of Education, we are addressing the educational needs of children who were directly affected by the conflict.

The first step was to provide tents in evacuation centres that can serve as temporary learning and play areas for children, giving them the space they need to play, learn and simply be children again. So far, 10 of these spaces have been set up in seven evacuation centres in Zamboanga City.

Providing much more than just spaces

We are doing much more than just providing spaces, though. Psychosocial support is being offered, to help these conflict-affected children understand and process their experiences. We are also distributing hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, towels, and toothbrushes to help families maintain a good level of hygiene in the evacuation centres.

We completed our set-up as the sun set. Eric and his friends were still playing and laughing in the centre’s playground. Their good cheer is testament to children’s resilience even in the toughest of times, but it is up to adults to ensure that they have the tools and skills they need in order to thrive when trouble that they did nothing to cause affects their prospects for a happy and fulfilled life. That is the task of government, civil society organisations, local communities – and NGOs like us, with big tents.

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