The Power of Play
It took Typhoon Haiyan just a few hours to take with it schools, books, and children’s education. Yet, teachers and daycare workers in Eastern Samar, Philippines, are helping children to reclaim this basic right in a creative kind of way...
“Friendly House” in Llorente, Eastern Samar is a hive of activity. Banana leaf snakes, brightly colored pins made from plastic bottles, and pretty paper flowers are strewn across the table as an excited group of men and women put the finishing touches on their creations.
This is a craft session with a difference: the group is made up of teachers and daycare workers whose learning materials and centers were washed away by Typhoon Haiyan, the biggest storm to ever make landfall. Now, they are eager to replenish their educational materials with whatever they can find.
For the past three days, child rights organization Plan International has been training them on how to create toys and learning materials that don’t cost a cent.
A New Level of Imagination
Judging by what’s on show, this group from Balangkayan and Salcedo has taken crafting to a new level, by using indigenous materials such as banana leaves and wood, along with recyclable materials like plastic and paper, to make toys with an educational purpose.
“In times of disaster, education can restore a sense of normalcy for children. By taking simple materials such as paper, glue, scissors and using it together with recyclable materials, such as old bottles or wood, you can create toys for children to play with,” explains Plan’s Early Childhood Care and Development Specialist Beverly Bicaldo. “It helps them to interact and, when they go back to school, they will feel more normal.”
Once the group has shared its creations with the others and described how they will help the children whose lives were torn apart by the typhoon, the toys are carefully packed in one of Plan’s “Big Blue Bags.” The bag symbolizes a time to play, so when the children spot it at their daycare center, they can barely contain their excitement!
Restoring a Sense of Normalcy
From the animated chatter, it seems the teachers have gained a lot from this session, and they can hardly wait to get their Big Blue Bags back to their villages.
Bienvenito Globio, 48, has been a daycare worker for six years. His classroom was destroyed by the storm. “All of my educational materials were washed away by the typhoon. My daycare center was too. I now have to hold my lessons in a tent.”
Bienvenito says many of his students have been asking when they will be able to come and play again, and he is relieved to be able to give them an answer now. “While the center is being rebuilt, these materials will be a big help for the children and it will help them get back to normal,” he says. “This experience was bad for everyone, people lost their houses, I lost my learning materials. It’s difficult to teach outside when it’s raining, but at least this restores a sense of normality.”
The training has helped Josefina Quiminales, 44, personally and professionally. The teacher of 15 years evacuated to a church with her 11 children when Typhoon Haiyan hit. They all survived, but her 2- year-old still has nightmares. “She doesn’t want to take a bath because she’s scared of the water,” says Josefina. This disaster has affected other children in a similar way, with many now frightened of wind, rain, and water, but the teachers have been trained on how to help deal with the emotional stress through play. “Plan’s session has made me understand the stress caused by this disaster and this will help when I teach children with my new materials,” she says.
Time to Play
In some municipalities, lessons have already resumed. Down the coast in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, a group of daycare workers trained just last year have been using their Big Blue Bags of toys to great effect. Sessions are being held both morning and afternoon, with venues varying from tents to small concrete rooms. At a morning session on a sunny Thursday, the children seem excited to meet their friends, talk, play, and enjoy being, well, children. From the happy smile on 4-year-old Pearl Joy’s face, she is enjoying learning again, as she proudly holds up her artwork for all to see. “I like seeing my classmates and I enjoy playing and learning,” she says.
As for 4-year-old Kishna, she could not talk after the typhoon, says her Aunt Annabelle. “She was afraid of the light and thunder, but now she’s playing with other kids and it’s helping her recover.”
A Healing Power
While these sessions provide an opportunity for children to see their classmates again, they also help the healing process. Estelita Afable, 61, Provincial Early Childhood Care and Development Coordinator in Eastern Samar, has seen firsthand how Plan’s work helps children – as well as adults – after an emergency.
“Plan’s training shows daycare workers how to create appropriate toys in times of emergency. It’s also a sort of therapy for those who survived Typhoon Haiyan,” she explains.
As for children like Kishna, play can help heal trauma. “These sessions are part of the healing process and it is something to look forward to,” says Estelita. “Children have time to play, create, get dressed, and go to meet their friends. If they stay at home, they will just eat, sleep, and never get over it.”
The training and daycare sessions prove just how important play is in a post-disaster setting – the inscription on the back of Plan’s Big Blue Bag sums it up best. “Play is one of the ways young children learn. It not only provides a fun way to learn, but play in itself is a basic right of the child.” From the happy smiles that can be seen at Friendly House in Llorente and the daycare sessions in Guiuan, it seems this is a statement applicable to adults and children alike.