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  • The ULF Team

Bringing play to the displaced children of Mayon

Play It Forward Resilience, in partnership with the Department of Education, recently provided psychosocial support to students and parents from San Jose Elementary School and evacuees from Calbayog Elementary School in Malilipot, Albay, in response to the Mayon volcano eruptions.

Play It Forward Resilience (PIFR), Unilab Foundation’s therapeutic play program for children in vulnerable areas, in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), recently provided psychosocial support to students and parents from San Jose Elementary School (SJES) and evacuees from Calbayog Elementary School (CES) in Malilipot, Albay, in response to the Mayon volcano eruptions.

‘Sanay na po kami’

Since January 2018, the Mayon volcano eruptions have dominated the news. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) raised the alert level to 4 (hazardous eruption within days), and ordered the evacuation of residents, especially those living within the six-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ). Reports say approximately 21,000 families or 81,200 individuals have been evacuated.

Nag-start mag-erupt ang Mayon volcano noong January 14. ‘Yun din yung araw na lumipat ‘yung from Calbayog and part of San Roque, pumunta sila dito sa school namin para mag-evacuate. Alam na nila ang gagawin. Calbayog is within the six-kilometer danger zone,” explains Sincletica Buena, Principal and Camp Chief of SJES.

As the designated evacuation site in Malilipot, Albay, SJES now caters over 1,000 learners. Because the evacuees are sheltered in the classrooms, DepEd has designated Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) for classes. Students from SJES take the morning shift, from 6:00am to 12:00nn, while the displaced students from CES are scheduled for 12:00nn to 6:00pm.

“Naapektuhan po talaga ang pag-aaral ng mga bata. Kasi isipin po natin, ‘yung one day na teaching, ginagawa lang natin dito’ng half day. Although lahat ng subjects natuturo sa kanila, kaya lang nasu-shorten ‘yung time,” shares Marilou Arizapa, Principal of CES.

Rosario Bien, a Grade 1 teacher in SJES adds, “’Yung ibang mga bata, may masakit ang ulo, nahihilo, minsan nagkakaroon ng lagnat, kasi na-se-stress din sila, kahit hindi sila yung masyadong apektado ng Mayon kasi na-displace sila sa kanilang classroom.”

Although parents like Precy Bitara say that her children are used to evacuations every now and then, both the teachers and students suffer. “’Yung ibang bata talaga, parang may trauma na sila siguro sa naranasan na nila, kaya natatakot sila,” shares Bitara.

The power of play

Studies show that children can use play not only to cope with difficult emotions, but also as a way to accelerate healing and recovery from trauma.

To address the need for psychosocial support, the DepEd tapped PIFR for two days of play for the students in Malilipot, Albay.

Play It Forward is a science- and evidence-based program that provides opportunities for children to express and understand their feelings through a play curriculum and a structured or mobile play space.

Twenty-six teachers and Disaster Risk and Reduction Management coordinators from DepEd Region V and DepEd Albay Division received training on PIFR from March 25 to 26, 2018, enabling them to become PIFR facilitators equipped to provide basic psychological first aid to parents and children.

Bien, who facilitated play sessions for her Grade 1 students, shares, “Ang paglalaro po kasi, nawawala ang problema sa kanila. Instead na isipin nila na natakot sila nung pumutok yung bulkan, mas na-enjoy nila yung karanasan nila sa paglalaro.”

Joseph John Jimenez Perez, Project Development Officer II of the DepEd Sorsogon Province, was also trained as a volunteer facilitator. Perez affirmed, “It gives them a sense of normalcy, [since] the evacuation center is definitely a very abnormal situation: this is not their home, this is a learning institution. So through play, it gives them a sense of normalcy that everything will be okay.”

Building resilience, one child at a time

After the play days, teacher-facilitators began preparations to cascade their experience and knowledge to their respective divisions.

A total of 209 students from SJES and CES, from Grades 1 to 6, participated in the PIFR play days on March 27 and 28. In addition, 59 parents also learned about how disasters and crises situations like the volcanic eruption can have severe effects on children, and how understanding and caring for them can help with healing and renewed growth.

PIFR has brought the intervention to disaster-stricken areas: post-Yolanda Tacloban in 2016; Isabela, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Lawin in 2017; and Typhoon Nina-hit Marinduque also in 2017. The program also held play days for children who were affected by the 6.7 magnitude earthquake in Surigao City last year.

Aside from providing response, this year, PIFR is set to build resilience among children in the 10 most vulnerable areas in the Philippines, including Pampanga and Eastern Samar.

Help us reach more children affected by disasters like Mayon. Donate here.

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