World Vision's child-friendly spaces are giving children the chance to learn and play after Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Annila Harris
Christmas is big in the Philippines. When I arrived in Cebu almost three weeks ago, there were already ‘parols’ (Filipino Christmas lanterns), trees, and tinsel adorning houses and shop fronts. I was told that these had been up for at least a month. The local staff joke that in the Philippines Christmas starts when the month ends in “-ber”.
When I reached Ormoc, one of the areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan on November 8, one of the things that struck me was the lack of Christmas. Considering the other things I’ve seen here: powerlines in the street, countless collections of crumpled roofs and broken beams, destroyed crops, and silent mills and factories, the absence of Christmas shouldn’t have shocked me. Ormoc has bigger things to worry about.
But it was a reminder to me that while it’s been a month since the Typhoon struck, and the media has moved on, Haiyan is still a powerful presence in the lives of survivors.
Marissa, a World Vision volunteer working in one of our spaces for women and young children explained that this year it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Many of the homes that should be decorated with parols are gone. Parents have other things on their mind, like securing shelter for their families, gathering clean drinking water from further afield, and finding ways to survive without the income they lost to damaged crops and suspended workplaces.
In Marissa’s community, Christmas usually means a big gathering on Christmas Eve, with lights and food and friends. But with the electricity still down, this year’s party has been cancelled. Families will likely have small celebrations, cooking their favourite meals – spaghetti, or the local ‘pancit’. Marissa echoed others I’d met when she assured me that their spirits are not broken, she says they can still appreciate the small things.
Downsizing Christmas in the current circumstances makes a lot of sense to me. In Australia, Christmas is flexible – sometimes we have breakfast with family and exchange presents, sometimes we head to church, other times we spend it with friends. I understand that it’s not the frills that make it special.
That said, I was thrilled to see children at one of World Vision’s ‘child friendly spaces’ planning their Christmas activities. These are spaces where children get a break from the grim reality they and their parents face. They play, draw and sing together. They smile and relax. This week they’ll be making Christmas decorations to take home with them. The decorations might seem trivial in such a serious situation, but I think that’s the point – they bring some light in a dark moment.
If you gave to World Vision’s Typhoon Haiyan Appeal, you can see how your support is helping World Vision reach survivors with essential relief items, and helping those affected start to rebuild.