Saturday, 19 December 2009

Philippines diary: Home for Christmas

Children do their best to learn in an over-crowded classroom
© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Andy Brown
In my last week working for UNICEF Philippines, I returned to the evacuation centres to see how children and their families were coping in the run up to Christmas. In the two months since Tropical Storm Ondoy, many of the 400,000 displaced people had returned to their homes or to resettlement communities. However, around 70,000 were still living in evacuation centres, primarily in the Laguna region.

The focus of the trip was on schools being used as evacuation centres. I was travelling with Martijn, who was looking at the impact on children’s education, and Hirut, who was testing a new needs assessment form.

The first evacuation centre, in San Pedro Elementary School, was quite chaotic. The 200 families living there had been told that the military would be arriving the next day to transfer them to a ceramics warehouse. While the education team met local officials, I went with a teacher to interview evacuees. I was quickly surrounded by a large crowd of people demanding food, money and supplies. They were clearly desperate and I knew from my security training how these situations can turn ugly. With the teacher’s help, I explained that my job was to report on their situation, in order to try and raise more money, but that I couldn’t personally promise them anything. Eventually they calmed down but it was an unnerving experience.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Philippines diary: Gimme shelter

Efren, 11, lost three fingers in a flour grinding machine
© UNICEF UK/Philippines 2009/Sharron Lovell
In my penultimate week in the Philippines, I returned to the streets of Binondo to revisit the street children living and working around the night market. This time, I was joined by Sharron Lovell, a Shanghai-based photographer, who had been commissioned by UNICEF UK to take photos of street children for a fundraising campaign. My role was to collect the stories of the children she photographed.

We were reunited with Butch from Childhope Asia Philippines, who was very happy with the photos and story I sent him from our previous trip together. We arrived in Binondo at around 3pm and started looking for Butch’s students. In the end we were out on the streets for eight hours, interspersing our time photographing children with refueling stops at Jolibee (the Filipino equivalent of MacDonalds) and Starbucks, where I quizzed Butch for details of the children’s case histories.

I was amazed by how much information he had in his head, not just about the kids but about their parents, some of whom were also former students of his. “I have thousands of case histories in here,” Butch said, taping his forehead.